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September 1, 2014
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Macri avoids court but still probed

Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri will not stand trial for alleged espionage.
Eleven Buenos Aires City officials to stand trial for illegal intelligence plot

Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri will not stand trial as the top official responsible of an espionage plan snooping into businessmen, relatives, legislators and opposition activists which involved senior officials of his administration, former judges and policemen.

“It is clear now that I was victim of a politically staged court case and that the idea of a phone-tapping network related to me was false”, vented Mayor Macri through his Twitter account later during the day.

However, other former officials of his centre-right PRO party administration suffered a different fate: four former City Hall figures —Education ex-minister Mariano Narodowski and former Metropolitan Police chief Jorge “Fino” Palacios, Osvaldo Chamorro and intelligence officer Ciro James— will face the charges in court together with a former Misiones province judge José Luis Rey and five policemen from the same northern province.

In his 178-page long resolution, Federal Judge Sebastián Casanello, in charge of investigating the illegal intelligence plot after replacing judge Norberto Oyarbide, affirmed there was not enough proof to place Macri in the dock as the mastermind of the plan.

“The criminal liability of Mauricio Macri, in contrast to the situation of the other accused, rested almost completely on his key position within the bureaucratic structure of his government,” Casanello wrote.

In other words, the court found no sustainable evidence, neither in the accusations of the prosecutor nor in the work of the plaintiffs, which could demonstrate Macri’s pivotal role in personally steering the surveillance apparatus.

Still, that does not necessarily imply his innocence as Casanello has already called for new witnesses to clarify Mayor Macri’s true participation in the phone-tapping operations.

Along with his ruling, Casanello distinguished between the assumed knowledge Macri should have had about the illegal activities of his own subordinates, including Metropolitan Police chiefs, and the solid evidence his accusers could display alongside the investigation to justify their charges.

“He is being placed as taking the lead in this reportedly conspiracy destined to carry on phone-tapping operations based on his institutional function as head of local government,” the judge said.

According to Casanello, that is insufficient to show Mayor Macri’s responsibility. There is a difference between political and criminal responsibilities, he emphasized.

“The requirements for taking him to trial fail as a result of the lack of evidence. This lack negatively affects exercising an effective defence because it puts the accused in the difficult position of having to show that something didn’t occur.”

However, he stated that it is necessary to deepen the investigation for it has been “rushed” and has already summoned Security and Justice Minister Guillermo Montenegro —who was dismissed from the proceedings— to question him.

Besides, Casanello also anticipated that the court should also focus on the security private firm The Ackerman Group, which was hired by Macri’s father, Franco Macri, to spy on his son-in-law Néstor Leonardo’s activities.

The inner scheme

During the investigation phase, Macri was accused of allegedly participating in an unlawful organization to illegally spy on citizens, as well as the violation of secrecy, abuse of authority and the forgery of public documents.

A federal court ruling in the hands of Judges Jorge Ballestero, Eduardo Freiler and Eduardo Farah, affirmed in 2010 that the head of City Hall “was aware and even allowed the assembly of a prohibited intelligence machinery in the BA City structure that was used to his own benefit”.

In particular, the mayor was linked to two illicit tappings when the episode was uncovered in 2009: the spying on his own ex-brother in law, Néstor Leonardo, and AMIA victims’ relatives activist Sergio Burstein —close to the Kirchnerite government— who has always been very critical of Macri and his administration, especially about some key members of his Metropolitan Police such as Jorge “Fino” Palacios, who had been questioned in the past for his role during the investigation into the terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community centre in 1994.

Regarding Leonardo’s case, Franco Macri admitted having paid The Ackerman Group firm, arguing that he was worried about the safety of his daughter. The court said that he was not supposed to know about the way that surveillance was conducted.

On the other hand, Burstein was warned by an anonymous call to his daughter that he was being spied upon.

How was the intelligence work organized? Casanello aimed at the Metropolitan Police original top brass, Palacios and Chamorro, who allegedly mounted a parallel spying apparatus under a security firm façade —Strategic Security Consultancy, managed by Chamorro— in collusion with two Misiones province judges —Horacio Gallardo (who died in 2011) and Rey— who ordered the tapping operations from State Intelligence agency(SIDE) for false investigations.

Once the hearings were over, former Metropolitan Police intelligence agent Ciro James was charged with recovering the tapes from the SIDE office. The investigation showed that James did not appear in the Security area payroll but was hired as a consultant by then education minister Mariano Narodowski, who is accused of fraud.

Palacios, Chamorro, James, Narodowski and Rey will face charges with 3-to-10-year sentences if found guilty. Judge Rey’s secretary Mónica González and Misiones policemen Antonio Fernández, David Amaral, Rubén Quintana, Raúl Rojas and Diego Guarda have also been sent to trial as part of the intelligence ring.

Herald with Télam, online media.

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