Former public works secretary and elected Parlasur legislator José Francisco López was arrested yesterday while allegedly trying to bury bags holding nearly US$9m in cash in a monastery.
López, who served under Planning Minister Julio de Vido for 12 years during three consecutive Kirchner governments, was detained in General Rodríguez after a resident reportedly alerted police about a man throwing bags over the monastery wall in the early hours of yesterday.
López was caught with bags of US dollars, euros, yen, and Qatari riyal worth a total of US$8.98m. He also had jewellery, luxury watches, and a .22 calibre gun for which the license to carry had expired and which was the initial motive for his arrest.
According to nuns living at the monastery, López initially told them that he had stolen the money and wanted to donate it to the monastery before the police took it. He also then allegedly attempted to bribe the police officers who first arrived on the scene.
López was held overnight in Moreno, and will now be interrogated by prosecutor Alejandra Rodríguez as a suspect charged with illegally carrying a firearm and money laundering. López is also being investigated for embezzlement in the Federal Courts by prosecutor Federico Delgado and Judge Daniel Rafacas, in a case that stretches back to 2008. In his latest sworn tax statement, López did not declare any foreign currency.
López’s arrest prompted shock and outrage from across the political spectrum yesterday. President Mauricio Macri called it a “shameful event” and linked it to allegations of widespread corruption during the Kirchner governments.
“It’s almost like something out of a film,” said Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña of yesterday’s arrest. “We’re shocked because he’s not a minor official … He led public works, which were so questioned. At the very least there were enormous problems with transparency and discretionary spending; at worst there was serious corruption.”
López was considered a right-hand man to ex-planning minister Julio de Vido, himself a close ally to former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner during their decade in power. His role as public works secretary also links him to the investigations into businessman Lázaro Báez, who is under arrest and prosecuted with laundering money via his construction firm after being awarded lucrative contracts with the state.
In May, de Vido was also prosecuted for his supposed responsibility in the 2012 Once train crash. He is also being investigated for allegedly inflating prices for public works projects across the country.
There was also condemnation from López’s own Frente para la Victoria party, which called for the judiciary to act swiftly and without affording any priviliges.
“The FPV-PJ legislators in national Congress and Parlasur express their most energetic condemnation at the conduct of any current or former public official, whatever their political status, who has undeclared funds either inside the country or abroad,” read a statement alluding to government officials found to have bank accounts in tax havens.
FpV legislator Hector Recalde added that this case demonstrated why the government’s tax amnesty bill, due to be debated in Congress this week, must be modified to exclude all public officials and their relatives.
Meanwhile, Kirchnerist youth group La Cámpora released a statement saying: “We condemn the actions of José López, who had the opportunity to contribute to the growth of a transformational political project but chose to harm it, damaging with his actions not just its followers but the entire Argentine public.”