Once station tragedy trial to begin Tuesday
For The Herald
After almost 25 months, the Once tragedy finally reaches trial. From this Tuesday, March 18, at 11 am, Federal Court 2 will be responsible for assessing the evidences against the 29 defendants. The charges vary from unintentional derailment, with the aggravation of death, to corruption. Nearly 350 witnesses are expected to give testimony in the court. Investigative judge Claudio Bonadío formally accused former TBA owners Mario, Roque and Sergio Cirigliano, former Transport secretaries Ricardo Jaime and Juan Pablo Schiavi, and the engine-driver who was driving the train when it crashed into the Once station, Marcos Antonio Córdoba, among others.
The aims to determine who was responsible for what happened on February 22. On that day, at 8:32 am, a train, commonly referred to inside the company as “Chapa 16”, failed to brake when it was arriving at Once station, in Buenos Aires City. As a consequence, the overcrowded carriages piled up one over the other, prompting 52 fatalities and leaving almost 800 injured. The Sarmiento line travels nearly 40 kilometres from Moreno district, in outer Buenos Aires, to the Once station in the capital. This means of transport is commonly used by the working class because of its inexpensiveness.
Two days after the crash, one commuter, youngster Lucas Menghini Rey, remained missing. His body appeared inside one of the smashed carriages, and became the 52nd victim. Since then, his parents, Paolo Menghini and María Luján Rey, have featured as the leaders of the protesters. In the memorial rally for the two-year anniversary, both accused the government of negligence and Cristina Kirchner of abandoning the victims.
Federal court Nº 2 is composed of judges Rodrigo Giménez Uriburu as its president, and Jorge Alberto Tassara and Jorge Luciano Gorini as secretaries. This is the same court which found former economy minister Felisa Miceli guilty of aggravated cover-up and sentenced her to four years in prision, although the verdict is not yet finalized. Now, they will have to face two other former national government officials: Juan Pablo Schiavi and the highly-criticized Ricardo Jaime, who has been already sentenced to six months in prison (in suspense). Oscar Arrigo will be the prosecutor.
Although the tragedy left 52 dead and 789 wounded, the charges do not carry heavy sentences. In the Argentine Penal Code, unintentional derailment with the aggravation of death is punished with one up to five years in prison, no matter how many people died. Defrauding public administration carries two to six years upon conviction.
For this reason, María Luján Rey, among others, insisted on the accusation of illicit association. In their view, officials and enterprise owners did know what would have happened - and actually did happened - if they insisted on the deflection of subsidies. The tragedy, in this line of investigation, was a consequence of structural failures on the part of the administration of the service.
In 2008, AGN released an assessment in which it warned about the dangers of the railway system. In the last week, a judicial consultation was leaked, which stated that the brakes of the “Chapa 16” worked properly, which could be a reason to point to the engine-driver, Marcos Córdoba, as the main culprit for the tragedy.
“Some relatives wanted to politicize the investigation”.
Gregorio Dalbón claims to represent the 400 survivors. He is now one the one who says Marcos Córdoba as the sole culprit.
“Whether Marcos Córdoba had activated the brakes system, the tragedy would not have happened, no matter what railway policies existed in Argentina,” Dalbón told the Herald.
Dalbón, who said he is a Radical Party supporter and a critic of Kirchnerism , blamed relatives for “politicizing the investigation.” Furthermore, he recalled the last memorial rally, in which María Luján Rey and Paolo Menghini criticized Cristina Kirchner’s administration: “they blamed the national government and Transport Minister (Florencio Randazzo) for everything. We do not improvise.”
The lawyer also pointed out that Claudio Bonadío, the judge in charge of investigation, “has made a mess by leaving the investigation unpunished. He wants to build a career and be the next Justice Minister under Sergio Massa. He is playing his political future with it.”
In his point of view, Marcos Córdoba was the only defendant criminally responsible. Indeed, Dalbón claimed that the alleged responsibilities of businessmen and officials were investigated in a separate procedure, now in the hands of judge Sebastián Ramos. “We want to punish the culprits in the trial, and also corrupt officials and businessmen”, he stated.
Indeed, the lawyer affirmed: “Convictions have to be fair. Judges should not be influenced by popular claimour. I trust in both the Court president and the prosecutor.”
The Judiciary Information Centre will broadcast some segments of the trial on line, on CIJ TV.@mparadalopez