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De la Rúa found innocent of bribery

Former president Fernando de la Rúa is escorted outside the courtroom.
By Mariano Parada López
For The Herald

Three former officials, three senators also acquitted over 2000 Senate scandal

Thirteen years after the allegations became known with the country nearing collapse, Federal Oral Court No. 3 found former President Fernando De la Rúa innocent of bribing senators to pass draconian labour legislation to weaken worker protection. The same acquittal benefited former Labour Minister Alberto Flamarique, former SIDE intelligence chief Fernando De Santibañes, Peronist ex-senators Augusto Alasino, Alberto Tell and Remo Costanzo, as well as former parliament secretary Mario Pontaquarto.

Shortly after 3pm, judges Guillermo Gordo, Miguel Pons and Fernando Ramírez stated that “undoubtedly” the facts underlined by whistle-blower Pontaquarto — who testified he had personally carried five million pesos in bribes from the spy chief to the lawmakers — “did not exist.”

“There was no meeting at the Pink House, nor did Pontaquarto take five million pesos from SIDE nor was the money delivered to Augusto Alasino’s flat,” the judges stated in their resolution. The full text of the verdict will be disclosed in three months.

After being declared innocent, 76-year old Fernando de la Rúa read a statement to the press.

“The trial proved there were no existence of the corruption suspected of my administration and it shed light on the truth. It was all a smear. This whole thing has been a terrible disgrace, from beginning to end.”

Moreover, De la Rúa once again denounced “a political conspiracy” but he refused to identify who was responsible.

Meanwhile, Pontaquarto said he felt “sad” despite being found innocent.

“The ruling was disgraceful. I feel sad. My family and I were in an unwanted situation. The justice system should assume its responsibilities,” he said.

Pontaquarto did not stop there, confirming his version of what happened in 2000.

“There was a meeting at the Pink House between De la Rúa, De Santibañes and three Peronist senators, at which the government decided to pay bribes. An agreement was reached at 4.3 million pesos for the senators and 700,000 pesos for (Radical senator) José Genoud. I went to the SIDE in April 18, 2000, and on April 26, I gave the money to (Peronist senator) Emilio Cantarero at his flat, between Callao avenue and Posadas street”.

From the beginning, De la Rúa, a traditional leader of the right wing of the Radical (UCR) party, denied any knowledge of the alleged bribes which led to the resignation of his then vice-president, centre-left Peronist Carlos “Chacho” Álvarez, in October, 2000.

Fourteen months later, De la Rúa resigned from the presidency due to the colossal socio-economic crisis of 2001. The emergency labour law was reversed in 2004 under the Néstor Kirchner national administration.

“This trial of nearly two years and 300 witnesses demonstrated the non-existence of all suspicion of corruption in my government,” De la Rúa celebrated.

Once she learned of the ruling, journalist María Fernanda Villosio registered her objections.

“It is a disgrace, but expected. The investigation suffered from major failures until Judge Daniel Rafecas arrived. Prior to him, none of the four or five judges had the will to investigate. Pontaquarto’s statement had been supposed to light up the path.”

“Pontaquarto’s appearance as a whistleblower was unique. He sustained his statement as to the main issues for 10 years,” Villosio told the Herald.

Villosio interviewed Pontaquarto in 2003 for TXT magazine when he accused the Radical-led government of paying bribes for the first time. The Senate official ratified the vague but plausible allegations made by veteran Peronist Senator Antonio Cafiero.

“It would have been a worrying message to politicians that a whistleblower could sustain his statements in the court system with result. The message is clear: do not confess because it is useless,” she said yesterday.

In previous hearings, prosecutor Sabrina Namer called for De la Rúa to be sentenced to 78 months in prison, together with his former labour minister Flamarique, former intelligence chief De Santibañes and ex-senators Alasino, Tell and Costanzo. The prosecutor had also called for 18 months for Pontaquarto, even though he had incriminated himself.

The Anti-Corruption Office (OA) asked for the same sentences for De la Rúa and De Santibañes but requested five years for the Peronist senators. Both Namer and the OA had called for the acquittal of Flamarique and Ricardo Branda.

The scandal exploded in 2000 and led to the beginning of the end for De la Rúa’s administration, which started in December 1999, after the Alianza (a coalition between the UCR and the centre-left Frepaso front) won the presidential elections with 48.37 percent of the vote, 10 points ahead of the right-wing populist Peronist candidate Eduardo Duhalde.

The Alianza shook up the political environment, promising honesty and transparency in public administration, one of the main issues after corruption scandals during its predecessor, the conservative Peronist Carlos Menem.

De la Rúa, a moderate politician who had been vice-presidential candidate in 1973, became the first elected mayor of this city in 1996. One year later, centre-left Radical leader Raúl Alfonsín, “Chacho” Álvarez, human rights advocate Graciela Fernández Meijide and De la Rúa sealed a joint pledge to clean up the state from corruption and dishonesty. The economic programme of the Alianza resembled Menem’s — a free market, open economy and “convertibility,” a law establishing parity between the Argentine peso and the US dollar.

The alleged bribery became a devastating scandal for De la Rúa. It resulted in Álvarez’s resignation as vice-president, and dealt a supreme blow to De la Rúa’s public image. In December 2001, after a wave of lootings, massive protests and nearly 30 dead, the Radical president abandoned the Pink House in a helicopter.

“With this verdict I have recovered my dignity,” De la Rúa concluded outside courts yesterday.

@mparadalopez

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