Illegal enrichment probe looms for Argentine VP

May 14, 2012, 10:02 PM

Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Influence peddling and money laundering allegations haven’t been enough to topple Argentina’s vice president, Amado Boudou. On Monday, illegal enrichment accusations were added to the mix when a federal prosecutor asked an investigative judge to open yet another probe against him.

Prosecutor Jorge Di Lello also asked Judge Ariel Lijo to investigate 10 businesses, including The Old Fund, a holding company reportedly linked to Boudou that took over a bankrupt printing company and secured a government contract to print Argentina’s currency after Boudou and other top officials intervened on its behalf.

Also named in the probe request are Boudou’s girlfriend, Agustina Kampfer; a longtime friend and business partner, Jose Maria Nunez Carmona; and another businessman, Alejandro Vandenbroele, who allegedly served as Boudou’s proxy in a series of business deals.

The judge must now decide whether to formally open an illegal enrichment investigation and eventually whether to bring charges that carry a maximum penalty of six years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office, Di Lello’s secretary, Juliana Marquez, told The Associated Press.

“The prosecutor has found sufficient elements to justify investigating the vice president,” Marquez said. “The judge now needs to initiate the investigation … examining the declared wealth of the functionary and the others named, along with the sworn declarations of the companies, in search of any incongruencies.”

In Argentina, taxpayers must formally declare not only their income, but also their total wealth. The government can then compare the totals along with declarations from the money’s sources, and can bring tax evasion charges when the totals don’t match.

Boudou already faces potential charges of influence trafficking and other acts incompatible with public office, in a case Lijo inherited from Judge Daniel Rafecas.

Rafecas agreed to open that investigation, and Argentina’s attorney general, Esteban Righi, approved that judge’s request for a raid on Boudou’s apartment that turned up telephone records and other evidence linking Boudou and Vandenbroele. Both men denied knowing each other, but Vandenbroele’s ex-wife provided testimony and went public with her claims that he had acted as Boudou’s front-man for years.

Boudou spoke out in his own defense last month in a lengthy and passionate televised speech from his podium in the Senate, where he presides as president of the chamber.

He accused an opposition media “mafia” led by the newspaper Clarin of inventing a novel rivaling “The Godfather.” He accused the president of Argentina’s stock exchange of trying to bring him down in a conspiracy with political and business rivals who failed to get the currency-printing contract.

Boudou then filed a formal complaint with the courts alleging that all three judiciary officials managing the influence-trafficking probe _ Rafecas, Righi and federal prosecutor Carlos Rivolo _ had been conspiring against him and improperly leaking information to Argentina’s opposition media.

Rafecas was separated from the case, Righi resigned under pressure, and now Lijo must decide whether to separate Rivolo as well.

Opposition lawmakers on Monday repeated their calls for Boudou to resign, warning that his case could be a threat to President Cristina Fernandez.

“He needs to free the president from having to carry the risk of falling herself into the crime of an illegal coverup,” Margarita Stolbizer, an opposition deputy in congress, said in a statement.

It would be easier for the president to apologize for the error of choosing him than to become complicit in the scandal by trying to prop him up and block the justice system from taking action, she added. “What they’re imposing is a culture of such impunity that they can’t demand legal conduct from the rest of the citizens.”

The allegations against Boudou had slipped off Argentina’s front pages after Fernandez decided to take back control of the nation’s leading energy company, YPF, from Spanish shareholders.

“But now it’s come back with force,” raising questions about what the president knew and when, said Sergio Berensztein, director of the independent Poliarquia consulting firm in Buenos Aires.

Some of the allegations date back to when Boudou was a mid-level government official. Fernandez later promoted him to be her economy minister, and then again to be vice president in her second term.

“The question is whether Cristina knew about all this,” Berensztein said. “If not, it was an intelligence failure involving people around her. And if she knew about that, then the president herself is complicit.”

___

Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile, contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Illegal enrichment probe looms for Argentine VP