Argentina official targets trial date for former president in 2018

Argentinean Flag

7 September 2017. By Robert Thomason.

The head of Argentina's anticorruption office told a Washington, DC, conference audience that a bribery trial of her country's former president should begin next year.

Officials from other parts of Latin America offered their own reports on the progress and challenges of their anticorruption efforts, though a UN anticorruption official targeted by Guatemala's president was absent after a last-minute cancellation of his scheduled appearance at the conference.

Former Argentina President Cristina Fernández Kirchner should go to trial next year, said Laura Alonso, the head of the Anticorruption Office of Argentina. Kirchner, in office from 2007 to 2015, has been charged with corruption centering on payments in exchange for government contracts. Kirchner denies the charges.

Alonso, a former legislator and former executive director of the Argentinian chapter of Transparency International, said that despite the country's success at bringing corruption charges against the high-profile and powerfully connected former president, Argentina's anticorruption agenda has much unfinished business.

President Mauricio Macri does not have the political support to remove all the judges in the country involved in corruption, she said. However, she pointed to her country's effort to pass a bill that reforms Argentina's corporate bribery statutes. In an interview with MLex earlier this year, she said the bill is an important part of Argentina's effort to join the OECD.

Guatemala

Iván Velásquez has been chief of the UN anti-impunity commission in Guatemala since 2013 and had been schedule to speak on a panel about combating corruption in Latin America, but he canceled at the last minute without explanation, according to a conference spokesperson.

Velásquez, whose commission has been investigating alleged illegal campaign contributions to the campaign of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, was ordered out of the country last week by the president, though that order was overturned by the country's Supreme Court. The commission — Comision Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, or Cicig — has been investigating allegedly illegal campaign contributions to Morales's campaign.

In Velásquez's place, Claudia Escobar, a former magistrate in Guatemala who left the country after receiving death threats for her whistleblowing in a corruption case, said that Guatemala has not been able to develop a sufficient judiciary to combat corruption because of interference by entrenched interests. "Cases get bogged down in an obsolete system," said Escobar, now a fellow at the US National Endowment for Democracy.

But others described more successful anticorruption efforts throughout the region. A Brazilian prosecutor boasted of 1,600 years of prison time handed down in the sprawling Lava Jato case involving major Brazilian corporations, including national oil company Petrobras.

Lava Jato

Melina Flores, a Brazilian federal prosecutor who is a member of the Lava Jato working group, said that major corruption investigations and prosecutions in her country are founded on important "pillars," in particular the independence of prosecution. Other pillars include coordination with internal agencies, such as the federal police and tax authorities, and other countries, she said.

She said there have been 279 requests for international assistance in the Lava Jato case, which has involved corruption in several Latin American countries. In the US, Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht was fined $2.6 billion (to be shared with Brazil and Switzerland) after pleading guilty to bribery charges.

* "Latin America Facing Corruption: Strengthening Accountability, Transparency and Independent Institutions" 21st Annual CAF-Development Bank of Latin America Conference, Washington, DC Sept. 7, 2017.

	Eliot Gao