Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Allegations cast pall over Argentina primary

The Guardian

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, front, waves outside the Basilica of Lujan in Buenos Aires on May 25, while Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, second right, and Argentine Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez, center, look on.

Photo: AFP

Lurid allegations of murder and drug smuggling have overshadowed the build-up to this weekend’s primary elections in Argentina as outgoing Argentine President Cristina Fernandez attempts to ensure a Peronist ally follows her to the Pink House.

The claims have been leveled against Argentine Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernandez, who a convicted gangster claimed was living a double life as a trafficking kingpin known as “the Walrus.”

The ruling camp said the story was fabricated by the opposition and the powerful Clarin media group — which has often clashed with Anibal Fernandez — in an attempt to dent the popularity of Peronist candidates ahead of today’s open party primaries.

The vote, in which Argentines can vote for any candidate from any party, will offer a gauge of public opinion ahead of the presidential election on Oct. 25.

Opinion polls suggest Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, is ahead of his rivals. He is to run uncontested as the candidate of the ruling Frente Para la Victoria (Victory Front) today, while the conservative opposition alliance Cambiemos (Let’s Change) will see three candidates challenge for the nomination, including the frontrunner, Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri.

However, the campaign has been overshadowed by press reports claiming that the president’s right-hand man Anibal Fernandez masterminded the murder of three drug smugglers who triangulated the sale of vast amounts of the prescription drug ephedrine, which is used for the production of methamphetamine, between China and Mexico via Argentina in 2008.

Although press accusations of involvement with drug cartels have been raised before, these reached fever pitch this week after one of the criminals convicted for the triple murder alleged on the country’s most-watched television news program Periodismo Para Todos that it was then-Argentine minister of justice Anibal Fernandez who had given the order.

Speaking from prison, convict Martin Lanatta claimed Anibal Fernandez ordered the killings to elbow his way into the profitable business.

“The ephedrine-smuggling business ended up entirely in the hands of Anibal Fernandez with intelligence people,” Lanatta said.

He and another witness linked to the drug ring, Jose Luis Salerno, claimed Anibal Fernandez was known under the code name “the Walrus” because of his abundant mustache.

The Cabinet chief has denied the accusations.

“I’m leading the polls,” said Anibal Fernandez, who is running for governor of Buenos Aires Province in the October elections. “They’re trying to keep me from becoming governor.”

The more sober side of the campaign has focused on the extent to which the next president will continue the president’s policies of the past 12 years, particularly with regard to workers’ rights, fighting inequality, controls on the economy and relations with international financial markets.

Macri has promised a change of direction in government, including more policies more friendly toward businesses.

Scioli is considered a relatively moderate figure inside the Peronist movement, but he has adopted a leftist stance in campaign speeches, praising trade unions and pledging increased spending on public projects and education.

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