Lázaro Báez, a businessman and close associate of the Kirchner family, was arrested yesterday ahead of being questioned in a money laundering investigation.
Báez was arrested as he and his son Martín arrived the San Fernando airport in Buenos Aires Province, after flying in from the province of Santa Cruz. Both were due to be questioned in Federal Court this week, but Judge Sebastián Casanello ordered the arrest of Lázaro Báez after ruling that there was a risk that he would flee the country. Báez’s accountant, Daniel Pérez Gadín, was also detained yesterday.
The three appeared before the judge this morning and presented written statements, but refused to respond to questions. They have denied any wrongdoing.
The case against Báez began in 2013 after an investigation into the so-called “Kirchner money trail” by journalist Jorge Lanata aired on his show Periodismo Para Todos.
The businessman is accused of laundering US$5m through his company Austral Construcciones, which was created in 2003 and won a number of state contracts for public works during the presidencies of Néstor and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. According to the prosecution, money obtained through fiscal fraud was filtered through SGI Argentina, a financial consultancy firm in Puerto Madero known commonly as “La Rosadita”.
The latest advances in the case came three weeks ago when Canal 13 aired a video showing Martín Báez, who has not been detained, and Pérez Gadín counting large sums of dollars and euros at “La Rosadita”.
Báez was originally summoned to appear before the judge on 26th April. His assets were frozen and he was ordered not to leave the country. This date was then brought forward to 7th April, with his son Martín scheduled for questioning the day after.
This all changed quickly yesterday after the judge determined that there was a “flight risk”. Shortly after 6pm, and before the media and gathering crowds, Báez was detained and taken to a local police station in Palermo, Buenos Aires.
He can now be held for up to ten days while the judge determines the next step in the case.
Báez’s arrest was praised by politicians in the current government, who hold him up as a symbol of alleged corruption during the former administration.
Coalición Cívica (CC) and Cambiemos leader Elisa Carrió stated: “This is a great day of justice. It comes after many years in which we have investigated and reported on the looting.” Carrió claims that Báez was part of a criminal network led by the Kirchners. She added that “I wish Casanello had taken actions two years ago.” and said that Báez should “give the money back”.
Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said it was “a very good step forward”, before adding it is “proof that justice is moving swiftly.”
The dramatic arrest of Báez comes amid a slew of scandals affecting Argentine politics. On Saturday, ex-transport minister Ricardo Jaime was arrested before being questioned over alleged irregularities in the purchase of train carriages from Spain and Portugal.
And on Sunday, president Mauricio Macri was caught up in the “Panama Papers” leak after it was revealed he was a director of an offshore company based in the Bahamas.
Mossack Fonseca, the law company caught up in the Panama Papers scandal, also reportedly blocked investigators seeking evidence that Báez owned companies in the US that received illicit funds.