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Argentina's main opposition figure faces multiple legal challenges.

The Argentine opposition's most prominent political figure and, so far, the only rightist leader running for president in the 2015 elections has been hit with two new criminal prosecutions, and his lawyers have run out of maneuvers to avoid the opening of an oral trial, which, even if he is not found guilty, will seriously damage his image. Mauricio Macri, the head of the Buenos Aires city government (Ciudad Autonoma de Buenos Aires, CABA)--the second largest electoral district in the country--will have to appear as the defendant before three different tribunals to answer charges for crimes allegedly committed since he took over the city government in 2007 (in 2011 he was reelected for another four-year term).

In one case, Macri was charged with conspiracy for using the government's administrative structure to carry out illegal wire-tapping and spying. In another, he is under investigation regarding the mistreatment and humiliations suffered by indigent street people who were harassed by a quasi-police unit created to "cleanse public spaces of intruders."

In the third, he is being investigated for multiple acts of corruption linked to government contracts.

Protected by a city legislature in which he has majority support, Macri until now has escaped unscathed from all the censure motions presented by the opposition, and, each time that he has been asked to resign, he has responded with silence or stepped down temporarily, to allow the judiciary to act freely (NotiSur, June 4, 2010).

From wealthy businessman to Buenos Aires mayor

Macri did not enter politics until 2004; before that he was a powerful businessman who headed the SOCMA (Sociedades Macri) group and, in that capacity, was president of 46 corporations involved in various activities from manufacturing automobiles to garbage collection. He was also president of Boca Juniors, Argentina's most popular soccer club. In these earlier activities, Macri received complaints linking him to serious acts of corruption.

A group of Boca Juniors associates accused him of benefitting from buying and selling players. In his private life, besides appearing to be involved in activities that question his moral and ethical decency, he is being prosecuted for involvement in a fantastic business of smuggling automobiles and auto parts between Argentina and Uruguay.

Among his inner circle are various accused or convicted ministers and government officials. The first two ministers of education, now fugitives, in his second term are under investigation in the illegal wire-tapping case. Jorge Palacios, the first chief that Macri appointed for his recently created Policia Metropolitana, is in prison for setting up the wiretapping ring. Despite all these widely publicized incidents, CABA citizens re-elected Macri last year by an overwhelming 64.25% majority, making him the most popular rightist leader of the largest Argentine city, an achievement that has so far not spread to the rest of the country.

On June 8, Macri's defense lawyers finished their fancy legal footwork in the illegal wire-tapping case. That day, the appeals court upheld Macri's prosecution, leaving him on the threshold of the oral trial. The same day, the highest instance of the criminal court rejected the presiding judge's petition for recusal.

Wire-tapping ring allegedly run from intelligence office

The saga began when an anonymous informant told merchant Sergio Burstein that his telephone was being tapped. Burstein is not just any citizen.

He leads the organization of relatives of victims of the July 18, 1994, attack on the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), in which 85 people died and 300 were injured (NotiSur, July 29, 1994, and Sept. 12, 2003). As such, he is also the principal plaintiff in the case against Palacios, the police chief who was the brains behind the criminal activity and who, it was later learned, set up the wiretapping ring.

Among other well-known victims of the wiretapping was Nestor Leonardo, who until then was not well-known to the public. It was soon revealed, however, that Leonardo was Macri's brother-in-law with whom he had serious differences linked to the family inheritance and other financial issues.

Among other characteristics of the incident, it appears that the wiretaps were carried out from the Secretaria de Inteligencia del Estado (SIDE), which answers to the Presidencia de la Republica.

When there are sufficient groups for it to do so, SIDE acts as an arm of the judiciary. In this case, to spy on Burstein and Leonardo, Palacio used a friend who was a judge in the northern province of Misiones, whom he deceived, telling him that both men were suspects in the murder of a well-known dental surgeon.

Allegations of mistreating homeless

Less than a month later, on July 3, the criminal court (Camara del Crimen) dismissed an appeal by Marci's lawyers and ordered that he stand trial in the case regarding the now disbanded Unidad de Control del Espacio Publico (UCEP), a quasi-police group that acted at night against indigent street people. In the decree creating it, the UCEP is defined as a group that "will be in charge of cleansing the city of intruders who have taken over public space for their own use." Thus, it mentions the unemployed and homeless who seek refuge in precarious shelters in plazas and parks.

Among the evidence that compromises Macri are the attendance sheets for the UCEP's daily activities. In the space for the name of the person or entity requesting the UCEP's services, Macri's full name appears on various sheets, along with a highly compromising notation--"preferential."

The third prosecution against Macri is for "fraudulent administration" and corresponds to the beginning of his term as head of city government. This involves an irregular bidding process in which his businesses were awarded contracts for installing shelters on the sidewalks at bus stops and traffic lights on streets, avenues, and boulevards, along with a contract for advertising on signs on public thoroughfares.

The list of what the former head of the CABA government Anibal Ibarra calls "the deals that morally disqualify Macri" is long. It begins in 1982, when the last dictatorship (1976-1983) nationalized the private foreign debt and the state took over payment. Taxpayers covered US$32 million of SOCMA debt.

Between 1993 and 1995, the Sevel company--manufacturers in Argentina and Uruguay of Fiat automobiles--evaded US$42 million in taxes, besides benefitting from US$7 million for collecting refunds for parts it exported to Uruguay, which were then reimported as finished cars, for which the neighboring country also paid a commission.

During the dictatorship, and until today covertly, it handled garbage collection in CABA and was in charge of collecting city taxes and levying and collecting fines for traffic violations. In the 1990s, SOCMA benefitted from the privatization of mail services, renationalized in 2005, by which time debts with the state exceeded US$900 million.

On July 2, the judiciary thwarted an operation by which the CABA government tried to privatize the payment of city workers' salaries, which has been handled since 1878 by the CABA-owned Banco Ciudad.

During his five years as Buenos Aires mayor, Macri has vetoed 99 laws passed by the city legislature, an average of 20 per year. Interestingly, many of them were sponsored by his own deputies, but there is a common thread. All the vetoed bills had to do with human rights and the defense of health programs and public education.

The most notable vetoes were those of Ley 3329, which created a special fund to find and pay restitution to children taken from their parents during the dictatorship; Ley 3335, which would give an award to agencies that defend the rights of survivors of gender-based crimes; Ley 3298, regarding prevention of torture and other inhumane treatment within the city; and Ley 3268, which would establish a registry of political prisoners between 1955 and 1983 (persons between the ages of 50 and 77) with the aim of helping them pay their taxes.

The conservative daily La Nacion, a firm defender of Macri's performance, criticizes him when it refers to relations between Macri and the judiciary. "It is disdainful," read a July 19 editorial, referring to "the apathy shown in not filling a vacancy created three years ago" in the Tribunal Superior de la Ciudad. "It is worth noting that, in a legal system such as the city's that allows the Tribunal Superior to control the constitutionality of laws, the executive did not make the responsibility to name one of its members a priority." For the newspaper, Macri's "lack of impetus" to fill that position is "a breach of duty."
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Author:Gaudin, Andres
Publication:NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs
Geographic Code:3ARGE
Date:Jul 20, 2012
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