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Fact Check Argentina Announces “Follow the Money” Player Card Series – Download Yours Today!

Today, Fact Check Argentina launched a new section to our site — Follow the Money.  This new page will serve our readers by providing information and updates on the ongoing investigations into the individuals that have been reported as facilitating corruption and illicit money laundering in Argentina.

As a bonus for readers, we will be issuing a new series of  “Money Trail Player Cards.”  In the coming weeks—and as we uncover more information—we will release collectible player cards to help you keep track of the various people and organizations involved in money laundering schemes and shady financial transactions in Argentine.

Today’s initial release of six player cards includes some of the biggest stars on the Argentine corruption circuit:

- Construction magnate and Kirchner confidante Lázaro Báez
– Vice President Amado Boudou
– Argentine businessman and Baez Associate Ernesto Clarens
– Shell corporation king and South Florida businessman Cristóbal López
– Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca
– Former Argentine World Bank Representative Guido Forcieri

 Each player card is loaded with facts and career highlights on both the front and reverse sides:

Boudou FrontBoudou Back

For example, did you know that Lázaro Báez gave Néstor Kirchner privileged financial information about political rivals and, not coincidentally, Báez’s companies were awarded 70% of all highway outlays in Santa Cruz from 2009 to 2013?

And here’s a “fun fact”: Ernesto Clarens, an Argentine businessman with a decades-long relationship to both the Kirchners and Báez, has a Sea Ray 350 Sundancer boat docked in Florida.  This kind of boat normally goes for $500,000 or more!

But readers, we need you!  Some of the cards need pictures, and we’re always on the lookout for new documents and intelligence that comes to us from readers like you.  Please use the ATFA tipline to share documents, information, and also your ideas about who should be in the next edition of player cards!

New infographics

We’ve noted the great deal of interest and discussion on social media about Lázaro Báez’s money trail, so we have added two additional ATFA info graphics to our “Follow the Money” page.

Yesterday we released a map of business locations of the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which has set up at least 123 shell companies owned by Lázaro Báez.  Check out yesterday’s post on Mossack Fonseca to learn more about what the public record has to say about these characters.

infographic-temp-lg Mossack Fonseca Map_d7_English

What’s in a Rate Score?

Finally, you will note that every player has an ATFA “rat score”.  How do we compute the rat score, and who are the highest scorers?  You’ll need to log onto www.factcheckargentina.org/FollowtheMoney to find out for yourself.

Mossack Fonseca: A Key Player in the Báez Money Trail

The Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca has erected an intricate global network of shell companies that Argentine prosecutors say have been at the service of Lázaro Báez. This network relies on shell companies in Nevada, nominally controlled by shell companies in the Seychelles, set up at the request of lawyers around the world who ultimately work for the Panamanian headquarters. Argentine investigations have linked millions of dollars worth of tangible assets to this network, which spans four continents.

MF English Photo

En Español

Mossack Fonseca’s role in Argentine corruption and the Lázaro Báez network was discussed indirectly in a report filed by prosecutor José María Campagnoli in May 2013. What Campagnoli did not discuss, but what subsequent investigations have proven, is that Mossack Fonseca was responsible for setting these companies up and integrating them into an elaborate shell company network across at least four continents.

Campagnoli named roughly 120 Nevada firms as belonging to the Báez network, identified multiple South American acquisitions, and seized their assets in Argentina. These assets included ownership stakes in investment funds, properties in luxury high-rise condo buildings, and shopping centers, among others. All of these Nevada shell companies were set up by a single registered agent: MF Corporate Services, an apparent subsidiary of Mossack Fonseca specializing in the creation of Nevada shell companies.

All of the Nevada shell companies tied to Báez in the Campagnoli investigation either are or were controlled by a single shell company in Seychelles: Aldyne Ltd, which appeared on the Nevada Secretary of State filings for these companies as the manager. (Following the Báez scandal’s eruption in April 2013, many of the firms subsequently shut down or changed their board’s composition.) In virtually all of the cases, Aldyne was the sole board member. Aldyne lists as its address Mossack Fonseca’s offices in Seychelles. The vast majority of these companies were capitalized via a $10,000 payment by another Seychelles shell company operating out of Mossack Fonseca’s offices: Gairns Ltd.

Many of the Nevada companies were founded at the request of Mossack Fonseca employees working in one of the firm’s dozens of foreign offices. These foreign Mossack Fonseca employees would presumably be in closer contact with the ultimate client, and therefore with the Báez network. One such example is in Uruguay, where the lawyer Juan Pedro Damiani worked with Mossack Fonseca’s Montevideo branch and with MF Corporate Services to found a handful of Nevada firms linked to the Báez network.

Similarly, many of the Nevada shells were founded at the request of the Mossack Fonseca office in Lugano, Switzerland, a popular money-laundering center in the Italian-speaking region of the country. Many of these shells were created with sister companies also based Lugano. The Lugano branch of these shell companies always listed as its address the local office of Mossack Fonseca. Lugano has already popped up in the Báez scandal as the home of Helvetic Services Group, the Báez front company that he used to move $65 million in sovereign bonds in 2012 and 2013. According to Google Maps, only 700 meters separate the local offices of Mossack Fonseca and Helvetic.

Mossack Fonseca was founded in 1977 by Jurgen Mossack, a German expat, and Ramón Fonseca, an author and a prominent Panamanian politician. The firm operates around the world, with a special emphasis on financial paradises like the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, and Anguilla. It also has offices and subsidiaries in the US, in Wyoming, Miami, and Las Vegas.

While its website lists a number of core areas, the firm is perhaps best known for setting up shell companies that hide the beneficial ownership of the shell’s assets. It has founded many thousands of shell companies in Panama alone, and has presumably done the same in other jurisdictions where it operates.

The firm’s skill in setting up shells is particularly useful for anyone seeking to hide the location of assets obtained through illicit activities. Not surprisingly, it has reportedly been a popular choice for corrupt politicians and their cronies moving assets. The firm’s shell companies have popped up in multiple Latin American corruption cases, as well as in investigations allegedly belonging to Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi.

 

Speaking Truth to Power

Demagogues and the free press are like oil and water.

And so for readers of Fact Check Argentina, it should come as no surprise that new reports point to growing incidents of government harassment of journalists and news organizations critical of the Kirchner administration.

The Associated Press reported on a new study issued this week by the highly respected Inter-American Press Association which found that “freedom of expression and the press have sharply deteriorated in the Americas over the last six months due to an increase in censorship and physical attacks on journalists.” The IAPA’s troubling report  released at its 70th annual assembly in Santiago, Chile, documents how press freedoms are deteriorating across Latin America and, specifically, warns that the climate for journalists in Argentina “continues to be adverse.” In fact, IAPA cites Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador and Venezuela as the worst offenders, and notes that with respect to Argentina there is evidence of increased attacks against those who criticize the government of Cristina Kirchner.

Consider these statistics for the region as a whole:  In just six months 11 journalists critical of corrupt regimes, or exposing the activities of drug cartels, were murdered. According to IAPA these attacks were “carried out by organized crime, drug traffic hit men and police-style groups on the orders of several governments of the region.”

For years now, the Argentine government has been notorious for tightening the noose on opposition media, including any and all who probed too persistently into suspected illegal activities and incidences of official corruption.  After attempting an expropriation of the factory (La Papel Prensa) which produced all of the nation’s newspaper stock, the government set its sites on discrediting and dismantling the leading opposition media:  La Nacion and Groupo Clarin. Its attempts to destroy the opposition media drew international rebuke from organizations such as Freedom House in Washington, D.C., who consistently denounced attempts to silence voices critical of the government.

But despite the “adverse” environment, a growing chorus of Argentine journalists have stepped forward in recent months to speak truth to power. Despite the threat of reprisal, media organizations across Argentina are taking the risk to expose official corruption and the abuse of power.  And that’s a good thing.

It’s Almost Halloween, But No Mask can Hide the Kirchner/Báez Relationship

As the corruption allegations pile up against Lázaro Báez, Cristina appears to have instructed her deputies to play down her associations with the construction magnate. Unfortunately for Cristina, their intimate business relations are not easy to mask.

During a radio interview in Buenos Aires this past week, the head of the Argentine Federal Administration of Public Revenue (AFIP), Ricardo Echegaray, vehemently insisted that “Cristina Fernandez and Lázaro Báez are not partners.” However, Echegaray did admit that the two have “business links” but that this “does not mean they are partners or associates.” Did everyone get that?

A piece in Clarin titled, “The dealings of the Kirchners with Lazaro that Echegaray omitted,” stated that “as partners they shared contracts, trusts and purchases of properties and public land. Sales of homes, trusts, vacation rentals, management of these shared lands, and the transfer of public land are just some of the many business links between the Kirchners and Lazaro Baez.”

In addition, Báez has received millions in public work contracts from both Nestor and Cristina. According to La Nacion, Baez, a former banker, created his company, Austral Construcciones, just days before Nestor Kirchner took over as President of Argentina in May 2003. Since 2004, the province of Santa Cruz has been one of the provinces that benefited the most in terms of funding for public works. Over the years, Baez received 70% of the bids for these public works projects.

Just today it was reported that the 123 shell companies affiliated with Báez in Nevada have refused to provide information to the court regarding their accounts. A federal judge ruled in August that these companies must present details, such as who owns the companies and who is authorized to give instructions to these businesses. The attorney for the companies has stated that they do not have this documentation.  One-hundred twenty-three companies represented by a lawyer that doesn’t know who owns or runs the companies? Doesn’t seem strange at all.

In an interesting but not surprising twist, tax chief Echagaray also admitted that his own office, AFIP, had investigated various Báez companies for falsifying bills and other documents. Echegaray stated that it has been determined that at least one of Baez’s companies, Calvento SA, “has no commercial activity, and is considered by his body a “false invoice mil.” The investigation is ongoing.

Kicillof in the Crosshairs of Corruption

Looks like Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, current Vice President Amado Boudou who is under indictment for corruption.

On Tuesday, in an article titled “Kicillof faces complications with a denunciation linking him to an investment fund and a foreign bank” Infobae reported the following,

“Economy Minister Axel Kicillof could become the third head of this ministry to be prosecuted by the judiciary from Kirchnerist governments if an allegation of corruption for his alleged involvement in an investment fund and an international bank moves forward. This criminal complaint against the minister was filed by citizen Ricardo Juan Mussa.”

The complaint, which was filed by Peronist politician Ricardo Juan Mussa, alleges a number of offenses, including but not limited to: beach of duty by a public official, concealment, illicit enrichment, racketeering, money laundering, and fraud. Kicillof allegedly instructed the Central Bank to sell $200 million worth of bonds in an illegal manner, potentially benefiting his associate Diego Marynberg, and possibly himself.

The complaint also stated, in referring to Minister Kicillof and his deputy minister, that “it is public knowledge that they hold all the government’s power in their hands, not because they have been elected to do so, and they are allowed to do as they wish with the public coffers as if they were personal property.”

Mussa requests that a number of individuals—ranging from journalists at Clarin to former head of the Central Bank Juan Carlos Fabrega—be compelled to testify regarding this incident. Infobae notes that Fabrega’s testimony could be particularly interesting, given “Fabrega knows all about the operations for millionaire profits that some Kirchnerist businessmen received from Banco Nacion and also knows how the Central Bank has authorized discretionary rotation of profits abroad and bond sales like Mussa’s complaint points to.”

These corruption investigations seem to have become quite the trend in CFK’s administration. How long before Cristina herself is a target of such an investigation?

 

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