PANAMA PAPERS

Argentina’s opposition attacks Macri over Bahamas account

President denies wrongdoing despite being listed in leaked documents as company director

Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina.
Mauricio Macri, President of Argentina.EFE

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Argentina’s opposition groups are using the so-called “Panama Papers” as ammunition against President Mauricio Macri, who is listed in the leaked documents as the director of a Bahamas-based company. Macri denies any wrongdoing, referring to “a legal operation” and adding that the money involved belonged to his family’s business group, one of the largest in Argentina.

The head of state comes from one of the country’s richest families and has previously faced scrutiny over his wealth, prompting some commentators to predict that after becoming mayor of Buenos Aires he had reached the pinnacle of his career in politics. Instead, he went on to defeat Daniel Scioli, who was backed by outgoing President Cristina Kirchner, at November’s general elections.

The opposition has unleashed an offensive against a president who after three months in office still enjoys high approval ratings

“It was in 1998. The company was dissolved in 2008 because it did not make the investment. Everything is in order. There is nothing strange about that operation. It was reported to Argentina’s DGI [Federal Administration of Public Revenue] but my father used his own resources that he had in Argentina,” Macri told newspaper La Voz del Interior of the affair.

The Argentinean president hailed the Panama Papers leaks as providing “transparency” over his family’s business interests, adding: “There are others who use tax havens to hide ill-gotten money,” without providing any names.

The opposition has unleashed an offensive against a president who, after three months in office, still enjoys high approval ratings. Kirchner supporters have ramped up the pressure, demanding the president appear before Congress, while moderates such as Sergio Massa, a former member of Cristina Kirchner’s government, have called on the president himself to give a detailed account of what happened.

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Even Macri supporter Lilita Carrió said on Twitter: “Macri should provide evidence of what he says.”

Despite these calls for further explanations, the Casa Rosada presidential palace told EL PAÍS it has provided sufficient answers. During a joint press conference with her Spanish counterpart, José Manuel García Margallo, Argentinean Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said she was confident the president’s image abroad would not be tarnished. “I don’t think it will have any negative impact on the new position Argentina wants to take up in the world. It’s a private matter.”

Until now, the administration had limited itself to a short statement saying: “Macri has never had a financial stake in that company,” explaining that the objectives of the company in question, Fleg Trading, “was participation in other non-financial companies as an investor or holding in Brazil, [and] was linked to the family business group, and that is how Mr Macri was occasionally named as director, without being a shareholder.” Nevertheless, the president did not disclose this operation in his sworn affidavit, first as mayor and then as president. The president’s office says Macri was only obliged to “declare shares; he has never been a shareholder in that company and therefore he didn't need to mention it.”

The president’s office is seeking to play down the affair, despite Macri appearing on the front pages of several international newspapers

The president’s office is seeking to play down the affair, despite Macri’s inclusion on the front pages of several international newspapers as one of the few incumbent heads of state mentioned in the Panama Papers.

The story comes at a time when Argentina is embroiled in a political scandal, involving a high-ranking official from the Kirchner administration who was imprisoned on Saturday on corruption charges related to the purchase of used trains from Spain. The Kirchner camp is now readying itself for former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s court testimony on April 13 and is hoping that the Panama Papers will serve as a distraction.

The affair once again puts the spotlight on Macri’s role in the family business group. He prefers to project himself as the president of the Boca Juniors soccer team rather than the beneficiary of his father’s business interests. He has long urged Argentineans who have undeclared accounts overseas to bring their money home, as well as to put the millions they have “hidden under the mattress” into bank accounts. Two of the biggest obstacles to stable economic growth are the hidden economy and capital flight. But now that Macri’s family name has been linked to a tax haven, however legitimately, his rhetoric has been stripped of a certain credibility.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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