Fri, Feb 11, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Argentine graft going unpunished: leaked US cables

AP, BUENOS AIRES

Corruption in Argentina is widespread and usually unpunished, the US embassy reported in a series of secret cables released by WikiLeaks and published on Wednesday. One cites a series of very profitable Patagonian real estate deals by late Argentine president Nestor Kirchner _ husband of the country’s current leader — and other top officials.

The classified cable sent to Washington in May 2009 noted a series of preferential sales of large properties in El Calafate, where an ally of the Kirchners was mayor, and noted that Kirchner reportedly resold one two-hectare plot for US$2 million, 40 times what he had paid for it less than two years earlier.

The embassy said a judicial investigation into the deals involving 50 top government officials was stalled and was then put in the hands of Kirchner’s niece, a prosecutor who herself benefited from one of the properties. Other key government auditing posts were filled by political insiders with conflicts of interest whose investigations have gone nowhere, the embassy added.

“Argentina’s corruption scandals frequently make a big splash at the outset, only to dissipate into oblivion due to the languid pace of the ‘investigations’ and the endless juridical pingpong to which they are submitted,” the embassy said.

A study by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Economic Crimes, an NGO in Argentina, found the country’s courts take 14 years on average to resolve corruption cases, with only 15 out of 750 resulting in convictions, the cable said.

The embassy’s analysis of Argentine corruption seemed to be prompted by the resignation a month earlier of Manuel Garrido, chief prosecutor for corruption cases.

He quit in frustration after filing more than 100 cases and failing to win a single conviction in five years. Garrido, who recently joined the campaign of presidential challenger Ricardo Alfonsin, claimed then that top government officials thwarted his every move.

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