The Argentinean government is to file a complaint against the judge investigating fiscal irregularities in Hotesur, the firm that manages the Alto Calafate hotel, which is owned by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Last week, Judge Claudio Bonadio issued a warrant for investigators to search Hotesur’s Buenos Aires offices, who confirmed that the company had not filed income tax returns for the last three years. On Monday, Justice Secretary Julián Álvarez announced that the government would impose “a very severe” punishment on the company – a fine of 3,000 pesos ($350). Basically, a trifle. But that did not keep Álvarez from calling the judge “a gunman.”
On Tuesday night, after a dozen lawmakers and high-ranking officials had criticized the judge, the president herself broke the month-long silence she had kept while convalescing to accuse Bonadio of being a partner in a gas station that also failed to file its returns. She wrote on Twitter:
It’s a family business. And you know what? They owe taxes for the fiscal years 2012 and 2013.
Just like Hotesur S.A.. Will any lawmaker report them? Will a judge search them? What will the independent media say?
Did Hotesur’s administrative infraction justify the search warrant? Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said a possible opportunity for political gain may have been behind the judge’s decision, pointing out that there were more than 40,000 businesses in the same situation as Hotesur, but Bonadio only searched one.
The problem was “the one” in question was the same one that, according to an article published on December 17, 2013 in La Nación, received 14.5 million pesos ($1.7 million) from Kirchner supporter Lázaro Báez for room rentals in 2010 and 2011. Báez is the largest public works contractor in Santa Cruz, a province in the Patagonia region.
Thus, what emerges out of the Bonadio investigation are a number of questions that have little to do with unpaid taxes. First, the suspicion that Lázaro Báez may be using the hotel for money laundering. Second, and most important, that these money-laundering activities could affect the president. And third, to understand the judge’s decision and the virulent attacks launched against him, you have to bear in mind that presidential elections are just 11 months away. This is Fernández de Kirchner’s last year in office and judges and attorney generals are daring to investigate things they have not looked into since her late husband Néstor Kirchner came into power in 2003, and she took over the presidency in 2007.
The government’s complaints against Claudio Bonadio have little chance of meeting success in the judges’ council – the authority on judicial misconduct – where Kirchner supporters are a minority. But in the meantime the administration has launched attacks on various fronts. Last week, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich opened the season by accusing the justice system of “actions inspired by a coup d’état mentality” and, on Tuesday, stood by his remarks.
According to a La Nación article, the hotel received $1.7m from Kirchner supporter and contractor Lázaro Báez for room rentals in 2010 and 2011
Later, several lawmakers waded in. Congresswoman Diana Conti, who serves in the president’s party, said: “This was an impertinent judicial action that smells like extortion.”
Congressman Carlos Kunkel added: “I am ashamed that I and other colleagues have had anything to do with Bonadio.”
“No serious country would search a company that belongs to the president,” Senator Aníbal Fernández warned. “It shows a lack of decorum, an absolute lack of decorum.”
Meanwhile, activist Luis D’Elía tweeted: “Symbolically we should put Claudio Bonadio’s head on a spike on the sidewalk outside Comodoro Py [courthouse].”
This was an impertinent judicial action that smells like extortion” Congresswoman Diana Conti
Justice Secretary Julián Álvarez called Bonadio “a gunman,” saying he meant it “metaphorically,” but then later adding: “Bonadio is a violent guy. He’s a judge whom everyone remembers for murdering two people with a Glock pistol, which is like a sub-machine gun. He is a judge who has a seriously violent record and a lover of guns.”
All the attacks from the Fernández de Kirchner camp deliver the message that Bonadio works undercover for media groups critical of the administration, as well as for opposition member and former Fernández-Kirchner supporter, Congressman Sergio Massa.
The government’s complaint against Bonadio will try to show that the judge has used the hotel investigation to build legal cover and create a media shield against the government’s efforts to put him through a political trial. “Since [Judge Bonadio] knows we are watching him,” Julián Álvarez said, “he has issued a search warrant for a company linked to Cristina Kirchner so the media can then say ‘the government is investigating the judge who is investigating the president,’ and thus go from perpetrator to victim and create a shield.”
Translation: Dyane Jean François