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20 Business Titans Arrested in Argentina Corruption Scandal

Amado Boudou (R) attends his trial on corruption charges  in Buenos Aires on August 7.Amado Boudou (R) attends his trial on corruption charges  in Buenos Aires on August 7.

Records kept in notebooks of the kinds used by schoolchildren are bringing down titans of Argentina’s industry in a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal. Dirty dealings are nothing new in Argentina.

What sets this case apart is the large number of people going down—around 20 so far, with additional names surfacing regularly—and their high-flying status in the business world, AFP reported.

The scandal involves under-the-table payments to the governments of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner, the Peronist couple who ruled before the current president, Mauricio Macri.

One big mystery is whether the money went to enrich government officials personally or was helped finance election campaigns.

Investigative Magistrate Claudio Bonadio is raising eyebrows by aggressively ordering the arrest and questioning of so many business leaders, from both ends of the political spectrum in Argentina. Most of the arrests happened on August 1.

Argentine vice president Amado Boudou during then president Cristina Kirchner tenure is serving a prison sentence for corruption.

“It is not the first time that major businessmen have gone to jail. What is new is the number and the reason,” said Sergio Morresi, a political scientist at San Martin National University.

Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has said bribes paid in the so-called “corruption copybooks” case total $160 million.

Bonadio began jailing tycoons after the publication of records by Oscar Centeno, who worked as a driver for the deputy planning and public works minister Roberto Baratta.

In the notebooks, Centeno meticulously recorded the alleged receipt of sacks of money from 2005 to 2015. The whistleblower had been expelled from the army for bad behavior.

“There is no doubt that the copybooks describe in detail the way in which the Kirchners raised money illegally for seven years without any alarm going off at any oversight agency,” said Nicolas Solari of the consultancy Poliarquia.

So far, eight business leaders have confessed and struck plea-bargain deals.

Angelo Calcaterra, a cousin of Macri, acknowledged having ordered the payment of cash requested as a bribe in order to receive government contracts.

Testifying before the judge, he said he thought this was a mandatory election campaign contribution.

“The indictment and arrest of business leaders is new, and considering the unpopularity and impunity that big business people enjoy, it will probably be well received by public opinion,” said sociologist Ricardo Rouvier.

Morresi, the political scientist, said “one possible result is real progress in transparency and criminal convictions.”

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