Fact Check: Argentina

958 days, 18 hours, 27 minutes ago


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The Money Trail is Unraveling

The Argentine media appears to be accelerating its investigation this week of Kirchner-confidantes and co-conspirators Cristóbal López and Lázaro Báez, as well as identifying yet another hotel in the extensive “web of” corrupt Baez/Kirchner deals.

We have reported extensively here on the many ways in which both López, the “gambling czar,” and Báez, the number one recipient of public works contracts during the Kirchner governments and “who is an absolute invention of the Kirchners”, have profited obscenely from their close proximity to the Kirchner family, and that it has been a mutually beneficial relationship for all involved.

In fact, it was only three weeks ago that Judge Claudio Bonadio, who is investigating irregularities at President Kirchner’s family’s hotel company, Hotesur, successfully assembled the evidentiary building blocks of the massive corruption and money laundering scheme that binds the President to the Argentine tycoons.  In characteristically heavy-handed fashion, Kirchner’s political allies have assailed the judge and his motives, with Kirchner’s niece, Romina Mercado, president of Hotesur, petitioning the Court of Cassation to remove Judge Bonadio for having “lost his impartiality.”  A formal hearing will convene on April 6th.

Meanwhile, La Nacion published an extensive profile of Cristóbal López, entitled, By the heat of power: the expansion of Cristóbal López in energy and media.”

An interesting and fact-filled read, the lede of the piece asserts, “Cristóbal López, is along with Lázaro Báez, the entrepreneur who must surely be the most grateful for the ‘won decade’.  However, if their accumulated fortunes and acquired businesses are compared, it can be seen that Lázaro is barely a poor imitation of Cristóbal.”  It proceeds to tell an historical account of Cristóbal’s acquisition of a huge conglomerate that includes hotels, media companies that benefit from the Casa Rosada’s advertising largesse, millions in energy concessions, and vast gambling interests.  Choice excerpts follow:

“The incalculable mass of resources obtained by Lopez in the field of gambling accelerated his development in other activities.  Above all, in the energy sector, linked to his origins as a supplier of YPF.

“While oil is a far cry from slot machines, the pattern is always the same: the Kirchners made available to their friend complete areas of the State, for him to increase his wealth on the basis of decrees.

“Cristóbal condenses in his career a way of understanding business and the relationship of the public and private sectors, financing politics and enriching political leaders, which has impregnated the fabric of the last 12 years of public life in Argentina.”

Regarding his early foray into the energy sector, aided, like much of his business success, by Kirchner-provided insider-information:

“The Kirchners transferred to Cristóbal, a oilman, information that gave him invaluable advantages over his competitors.  In addition, he was paid $2 million to begin to organize the information, $195,000 a month to carry out audits and another $360,000 for data processing. The marriage had not yet discovered the concept of “energy sovereignty” which began to take hold in 2012, with the nationalization of YPF.

“At the time when Kirchner gave this privileged tool to Cristóbal, he was also forcing Repsol to yield 25% of YPF to another friend, the famous ‘expert in regulated markets’ Enrique Eskenazi, who put virtually no money in it at all.  Instead of throwing a tantrum, Lopez began to move his competitors out of the way. Oil M & S and Serma, his environmental remediation company, multiplied their contracts with YPF to infinity.  In May 2010, Richard Celli, president of the sectoral industrial association denounced favoritism and attributed it to ‘kirchnerista affinities’ between Eskenazi and Lopez.

“In 2011 Lopez hit a growth spurt when he bought the San Lorenzo refinery from Petrobras and a network of service stations.  These assets were paid for with unpaid taxes totaling $ 1.2 billion.  This is truly a formidable business for the friend of the President, as the AFIP offered him a 10-year plan to regularize his tax situation at an interest rate that was below that of inflation. Cristobal had access in this way to such privileged delights that ‘the national and popular project’ only reserves for a favored few: for example, to use the AFIP as a development bank.”

Regarding his greed and abuse:

“Lopez also used the State as a lever to enrich himself with the solvay soda industry, input for the glass industry and cleaning products.  Shortly after he bought Alkalis Patagonia, Customs banned the entry of this product through the port of Campana, the closest to the soap manufacturers.  Cristóbal ‘s competitors had to increase their prices because of the higher freight costs.  Then, Guillermo Moreno made life even more difficult for them with his special import licenses for statistical purposes.  The Kirchners gave their favorite entrepreneur a new hunting ground.”

Learning from his mentor:

“In his talks with Kirchner, Lopez always upheld the same doctrine: you must put aside money for retirement, because judges, sooner or later will turn against you. This is the teaching that the Kirchners learned from their Menemist elders.”

The impetus for his entry into the media world:

“When, at the beginning of 2009, the dispute with Grupo Clarín exploded, Cristóbal warned that his thesis was missing a section: they should also acquire media.”

“As from 2011 the friend of the President decided to protect his business with a ring of friendly media.  His most important acquisition was the Infobae group, founded by Daniel Hadad.  For this transfer he needed the complicity of Martin Sabbatella, the owner of the Afsca. The holding company sold to Lopez by Hadad had more radio and TV stations than those allowed by the media law.  And at the time the transaction was made, the deadlines for adjusting to the new law had expired. Meaning that Hadad should have regularized his situation before selling. But Lopez was able to keep the multimedia without the Government making any objection. What’s more, when he closed the deal, Hadad was assured that the AFIP would cease to investigate him.

“López also acquired a stake in Finansur, which still ranks as one of his possessions in the portals of the Indalo Group.  But the Central Bank has not yet approved this acquisition, so the bank remains in the hands of the Sanchez Córdoba family.  Just as well: his position as a financier could mean that Lopez’s situation before the U.S. Justice will become more complicated as some of his companies are under investigation for alleged money laundering.

And, an assessment for what is at stake for Cristóbal and the Kirchners:

“In the construction of Cristobal’s kingdom his personal conditions played a significant role.  From the first day Kirchner was enchanted by his discretion. He never had qualms about opening his wallet when needed. Nor any curiosity about the political destination of the money he was asked for.

“He learned his lesson early on, when he listened to Jorge Antonio, patron saint of all the ‘experts in regulated markets’: ‘Whoever wants to do business with the State must know that their main asset is their place at the table of power.’

“One governor who understands the heart of the Kirchner finances, explains, quietly, as follows: ‘Cristobal was consecrated as a family friend when Nestor died. He never objected to so much as a comma of what was required of him.

“This loyalty is what is at stake these days.  Now that Baez’s image is irredeemably charred, Lopez is playing a decisive role alongside the Kirchners: he is responsible for making sure that an entire business architecture does not come to an end in parallel with that of this unfortunate cycle.”

And, speaking of Lopez, La Nacion also reveals and deconstructs the existence of another shell company in the corrupt portfolio of Lazario Baez, in a piece entitled, Money laundering: another shell company deepens suspicions about Báez.”

As the old saying goes, “with friends like these…”