The ‘Boudou case’ -also known as the ‘Ciccone case’- has been doing the rounds in the mainstream media and filling up Clarín and La Nación front pages for weeks. However, last week’s press conference by vice-president Amado Boudou elevated the case’s public impact with potentially significant political and institutional consequences.
The case has snowballed into a messy tangle of crossed accusations, and now all involved -accusers, accused and judges- are suspected of something. Here are the basic clues to understanding ‘Boudougate’.
The former Ciccone Calcográfica, now Compañía de Valores Sudamericana (CSV), is one of two printing companies in the country with the capacity to produce sensitive material such as bank notes, cheques, identity documents, lottery tickets and other high security documents. The company filed for bankruptcy in July 2010 and the judge hearing the case allowed its competitor, Boldt SA, to rent the printing installations of the broke company. The duopoly then became a monopoly controlled by Boldt, which prompted the government to intervene.
In September 2010, an investment company called The Old Fund paid over $500,000 to lift Ciccone’s bankruptcy and keep the company (another firm, London Supply, also put up $1.8m but quickly changed their mind and withdrew the offer). The Old Fund later negotiated with the tax office, AFIP, the terms to repay the company’s debts and were awarded a flexible plan with low interest rates and long-term financing. The company started operating again and in March 2012 secured a contract with the Central Bank to print 400 million bank notes for an estimated $170m.
Where does Boudou come in? In a fairly unusual move, when AFIP was drafting the payment facilities, it asked the then-economy minister for his approval. He replied asking the tax office to accept the ex-Ciccone’s proposed payment plan and supported rescuing the company due to its strategic importance and in line with the government strategy to protect jobs.
According to the judge overseeing the case, Daniel Rafecas, Boudou’s intervention could have been motivated by one of three reasons: 1) to protect the company for its strategic importance in the printing of bank notes and to save thousands of jobs (the reason given by the then-minister in his letter to AFIP); 2) to intervene in the “trade war” between Ciccone and Boldt, against Boldt, for political reasons (this company is linked to former president and opposition figure Eduardo Duhalde and has been heavily involved in the gambling industry through contracts with the Province of Buenos Aires since 1993); or 3) to favour his childhood friends at The Old Fund.
The prosecutor Carlos Rívolo is trying to prove that Boudou is somehow linked to The Old Fund, and that he violated article 256 of the penal code, which reprimands public servants who, abusing their position, intervene in negotiations with the objective of obtaining benefits for themselves or a third party.
The owners of The Old Fund are unknown at this stage, and discovering their identity is key to the investigation. Rumours in the media suggest that it could even be the Ciccone family, the former owners of the printing company, that is behind the fund.
During negotiations with AFIP and the lifting of Ciccone’s bankruptcy, The Old Fund was represented by its director Alejandro Vandenbroele, who paid the required $500,000. However, Vandenbroele’s declared income at AFIP makes it impossible for him to have that amount of money, which has led the prosecutor to accuse him of money laundering. He has replied that the money was not his, as he is only the director of The Old Fund but not a shareholder.
The prosecution is now seeking evidence that Vandenbroele and Boudou are friends. The connection was alleged by Vandenbroele’s ex-wife, Laura Muñoz, who claims that her ex is Boudou’s front man. The case started being investigated by judge Rafecas and prosecutor Rívolo in February, after two lawyers pressed charges against the vice-president based on Muñoz’s declaration to the press. Her testimony, however, is legally invalid as spouses cannot testify against each other in court. Furthermore, Muñoz and Vandenbroele separated in 2009, a year before The Old Fund bought Ciccone, and she has admitted to not knowing Boudou in person. Both Boudou and Vandenbroele have stated that they have never met in person.
Another possible link being investigated is that of businessman José María Núñez Carmona, friend and associate of Boudou. Guillermo Gabella, director and shareholder of Boldt, declared that after The Old Fund took over Ciccone, Núñez Carmona met with him and demanded “on behalf of Boudou” that Boldt return the equipment they rented when Ciccone went broke. “We bought Ciccone and we want the installations back,” he allegedly told Gabella. Núñez Carmona denies this, and a third person present at the meeting, Lautaro Mauro (employee of Buenos Aires governor Daniel Scioli) declared that the meeting was set up by Gabella to talk to Núñez Carmona about getting payment for some debts the state had with Boldt, who had printed out the forms for the 2010 census. Núñez Carmona subsequently sued Gabella for perjury.
Núñez Carmona does not seem to otherwise have any direct relation with The Old Fund, except for the fact that he is friends with Vandenbroele. This is the clue that was being followed last week, when an apartment owned by the vice-president was raided. The Puerto Madero property was rented out to Fabián Carosso Donatiello, a lawyer who lives in Spain and who is also friends with Vandenbroele. According to Vandenbroele, he found out through Núñez Carmona that Boudou was renting out the apartment and let his friend know.
The raid found that Vandenbroele had paid for some of the apartment’s bills and had liaised with the building administration. Whilst Vandenbroele claims that he was just doing his friend, who lives abroad, a favour, the prosecutor is trying to establish whether he was the actual tenant and had used Carosso Donatiello’s name as a screen. Another question is why Carosso Donatiello would rent such an expensive apartment he would only use in his sporadic visits to the country. Whilst the confirmation of this suspicion would not in itself prove any specific wrongdoing by Boudou, it would serve to establish a connection between the vice-president and the director of The Old Fund, one which so far they have both denied.
Since the beginning of the case, the government has claimed that it is all a political operation propped up by media groups Clarín and La Nación, who have effectively come to replace the political opposition. It has also pointed at Ciccone’s rival Boldt for its political connections and their interest in protecting the commercial interests of the company against competition.
In similar previous cases, the government has mainly kept its mouth shut until media allegations died down. But the press conference given by Boudou last week, after his apartment was searched, marked a change in strategy and created tremendous public exposure of the case, ensuring that it will remain in the news cycle for some time.
A furious vice-president summoned the press to the Senate and did not spare criticisms for anyone. After reaffirming his innocence, he accused Boldt, Clarín’s executive officer Héctor Magnetto, and judge Rafecas of being part of a “mafia” that plotted against him and set up a “media soap opera”.
He said that judge Rafecas was running a “news agency”, after it became known that the raid on his apartment was leaked to the press and that there was a Clarín photographer waiting at the building when the gendarmería arrived. The judge denied having leaked the information but the government accused him before the Discipline Commision of the Council of Magistrates. An online message exchange between the judge and a friend, who happened to be one of Núñez Carmona’s lawyers (though he is not working in this particular case) became public this week and complicated his situation before the Council. The exchange happened during the early stages of the investigation and Rafecas admitted that he may have behaved inapropriately by discussing details of the case. He now risks being sanctioned or even impeached. Carlos Rívolo, the prosecutor, was also challenged for the leaks by Núñez Carmona’s defence, who asked for the raid to be declared null and void.
During the press conference, Boudou also denounced former attorney general Esteban Righi and his law firm for offering him to use their influence to “improve his relationship” with the federal justice. The denunciation was followed through with a lawsuit and Righi’s resignation. The president of the stock exchange, Adelmo Gabbi, is also being sued by Boudou for allegedly bribing the vice-president on behalf of Boldt.
Boudou carried out the press conference alone. Many wondered at the time whether this was a symbol of his status within the government, and whether the president had abandoned him to his fate. The support received after the press conference by members of the government indicates that this may not be the case, and that President Fernández may have been aware of -and approved- Boudou’s accusations and the change in strategy.
However, whilst many government officials have come out in support of Boudou, they have also defended Rafecas and Righi against his accusations, suggesting that the government’s opinion on certain aspects of the case is divided.
As the case unfolds and the investigation advances, responsibilities will be determined. But regardless of whether the accusations against Boudou are true or not, at this point it is difficult to predict the political fallout from the case. Not only will it have a big impact on public opinion -which does not tend to follow the legal rule of “innocent until proven guilty”- but it could also have repercussions within the governing party in the internal race towards the 2015 presidency.
Lead image by Santiago Trusso