Fact Check: Argentina

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Closing in on the Kirchners: New evidence ties Lazaro Baez and Cristobal Lopez to corruption

More information was revealed this week by the Argentine press about the “K money trail,” widening the already striking picture of corruption that implicates the Kirchner family.  Evidence is mounting against two central figures in the story, who allegedly helped the Kirchner family launder money in exchange for lucrative business deals with the government.

La Nacion reported that K-businessman Lázaro Báez – the number one recipient of public works contracts during the Kirchner governments – listed a suspicious US$56.3 million in income in 2011 for his flagship company, Austral Construcciones, as the settlement for an alleged dispute with “J & J Holding NV” of the Caribbean island of Curacao, claiming that it derived from a failed partnership investment allegedly made by Austral in 2009 in Belize.  But some simple research by a reporter revealed that J & J Holding NV has not existed in Curacao since 1989; its registered address from that time “no longer exists” according to the public business registry in Curacao itself; and its last registered agent, Corporate Trust, also no longer exists.  Furthermore, Austral had no record of ever making the investment, and the nature of the alleged partnership is inconsistent and unclear.

What is clear is that the mysterious “award” of US$56.3 million allowed Austral to balance its books for 2011, establish a trust handled by K-money trail “bagman” Leonardo Fariña and obtain up to 314.8 million pesos in loans from the state-owned Banco Nacion.  (Fariña is now in jail over tax evasion charges after telling Argentine television in detail how he and Baez participated in a large-scale scheme to embezzle and launder millions of dollars in public funds on behalf of the Kirchner family.)  The other interesting fact is that the money from the non-existent J & J Holding was paid to Austral through a money trail that went from Curacao (a tax haven) to Belize (a tax haven) to a trust in Uruguay, then to Austral in Argentina.  Belize was a noteworthy stop on that money trail, because it is also the location of Teegan Inc., a Baez family shell company through which millions of suspicious euros passed on its way from Argentina to Switzerland.  Could Teegan be involved this maneuver by Baez?  Where did the 56.3 million dollars really come from?

Meanwhile, a very familiar face emerged in the resort town of Bariloche that implicated President Cristina Kirchner herself, through her hotel company HotesurAnother “K businessman”, Cristóbal López, has been reported on here for a while.  Lopez owns an inn in Bariloche called “El Retorno.”  Lopez has seen “exponential growth in his wealth” during the Kirchner era, mostly through running casinos licensed by the government, as well as media companies that receive government advertising money, highway concessions and public works contracts from the government.  Interestingly, Clarin and La Nacion report that guests at “El Retorno” who use their credit cards to settle their hotel or bar charges are noticing that their bank statements indicate that the company that collected the money from them was not “El Retorno,” but the Hotel Alto Calafate – an establishment 1423 kilometers away in El Calafate, Santa Cruz (a different province) and with an entirely different owner: the Kirchner family.  Indeed – when Lopez’s guests pay their bills with a credit card, they are paying the Kirchners directly.   The only tangible link between the two hotels is that they both contracted the same company to manage them: Idea SA, co-owned by Maximo Kirchner, the presidential son, and his friend Osvaldo “Bochi” Sanfelice.   But the management company is not collecting the funds from Lopez’s guests – it’s going directly to the President’s hotel’s bank account without any legal or contractual explanation.

Alto Calafate is under investigation in Argentina for being used by the Kirchner family and Lazaro Baez to launder millions of pesos of unknown origin, after it was revealed that Baez had rented thousands of hotel rooms there from the Kirchners that were never used.