Project description

For decades, Argentina has generated a huge system of political financing that could never be explained with transparent figures and expenditures. A large part of the political parties and their historic leaders were financed and enriched after having been in the government.

Over the years, a network of complicity, silence and corruption was created around the relationship between the State and its contractors, whether goods, services or public works.

Cartelization and overpricing were a method to secure business and millions that were distributed.

The system created profits for both parties: profits for businessmen who did not compete and invoiced above cost and kickback payments for politicians who used part of the money to generate political militancy and part to enrich themselves illegally.

The so-called \”patria contratista\” (contracting homeland/public procurement) was set up in Argentina and large local economic groups run big businesses with the State.

How can we find proof of kickbacks? How can we show this corrupt scheme?

The investigation formally began on January 8, 2018, when Diego Cabot, a journalist working at La Nación, had a meeting at the domicile of one of his sources. At that meeting, he was given eight notebooks (original handwritten documents) that have been written by a driver of one of the most important officers of the former Federal Planning Minister, who was relevant in management capacity and budget in the 12 years of Kirchner administration from 2003 to 2015.

The notebooks contained a detailed record of each one of the movements that the officer made for 10 years -only with few interruptions- a real route sheet of one of the persons in charge of collecting money from kickbacks from big companies of Argentina.

Working in secret and within a small teamwork, data were transcribed to an Excel database and they began working on each one of the records with all the objective elements that could be verified. The following information was listed: names and positions, domiciles and destination of the routes, ownership information of automobiles, name of companies, places for the deliveries and personal information of the individuals identified at the moment a bribe was paid.

During the checking and verification process, official records were consulted, domiciles were searched, and corporate information of the companies involved was gathered. The amounts paid were compared to the Government accounting details, public works and percentage of execution of said works to verify if there was relation to the amounts of money withdrawn.

The team members worked with the hypothesis that it was the biggest corruption plot ever revealed in Argentina. After verifying and, with the certainty that it was all true, Diego Cabot filed a claim before Justice. The result of this investigation was formalized in a document and the publication could cause the loss of part of the evidence.

What makes this project innovative?

The investigation had two innovative aspects never seen before in Argentina. The first one has to do with the topic. The plot between politicians and businessmen and the complicity among constructors of public works, concessionaires, owners of private public utilities companies and civil officers had never been able to be proved. The system consisted of invoicing with surcharges and return the officers a part of the value as bribes. Payments were made in cash, placed in handbags or suitcases and taken to the domiciles that the businessmen agreed with the officers. Transfers were generally made in official automobiles. The money was collected in three places: the Casa Rosada (place and office of the Government), the Quinta de Olivos (official residence of the presidents) and an apartment owned by former Presidents Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, both in office at the time these crimes were committed. La Nación could prove each one of these links. For the first time in history, society could see evidence of cash kickbacks between the most powerful entrepreneurs in Argentina and the most influential politicians in the country. That is why they worked in complete secrecy to safeguard the evidence. The second innovative aspect was the methodology. In March 2018, after months of checking, the journalist began an informal negotiation with a Federal Prosecutor to submit the documents of the investigation. The decision was based on the intention to provide the evidence with a legal soundness necessary to cause consequences among businessmen and politicians. The complaint was filed on April 10, 2018. There was a commitment among the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Court and La Nacion: nobody could know about the case and silence had to be absolute. "If it leaked, they could be in danger, a death risk," the Prosecutor said months later. In the early morning of August 1st, seven months after Diego Cabot received the evidence, the case became public and there were 17 arrests and 36 search warrants in one morning.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

On the early morning of August 1st, 2018, there were 17 arrests and 36 search warrants.
The title of the case file had the name of the former President of the Nation: "Fernandez Cristina Elizabet and others for criminal association" (9608/2018). The Judge considered that the data provided show the existence of a criminal organization made up of public officers who, using official means (including automobiles, employees, cell phone equipment, etc.) and commanded by the heads of the National Executive Branch (Néstor Carlos Kirchner and Cristina Elisabet Fernández) and the Federal Planning Ministry (Julio Miguel De Vido), between 2003 and 2015, obtained illegitimate amounts of money from several individuals, many of them businessmen who were contractors of public works for the National State.

The case file accumulated more than 100 bodies of proceedings after eight months. There were more than 200 search warrants in 14 provinces. Moreover, the Senate considered the request of the Judge to search the private domiciles of former President Cristina Kircher, currently a Senator and holder of Parliamentary privileges and immunities. The vote in the legislative body ended 66 votes in favor and none against and the procedure was authorized.

In all search warrants, more than two hundred and fifty paintings and approximately US$ 3 million in cash were seized. Nine firearms, mobile and electronic telephone equipment and a large number of automobiles, many of them high-end automobiles were also seized.

So far, 73 individuals have been prosecuted (40 have been imprisoned and several continue, and another 90 businessmen are waiting for prosecution), including a former President, the entire office of the Ministry of Planning and the main public works contractors of the country. About 40 persons repented and confessed their crimes. US$ 600 million were seized.

Researchers from Conicet (a group of State scientists) calculated that the figure that would have been paid during those years of corruption was US$ 38,000 million.

More than 200 newspapers from the all over the world covered the news which was globally known as “The notebooks of bribes” (“Los cuadernos de las coimas”).

Source and methodology

The original source of this investigator was eight handwritten notebooks containing a route sheet of the route of officers in search of money bags. First, we turned the diary into a database. In this way, we were able to understand the routes, generate search engines, find patterns of behavior or add the figures collected. Then, by means of the use of public registries and official databases, we checked hundreds of records such as automobile ownership, companies, domiciles, members of Board of Directors, company names. Afterwards, we compared the payments made with the works they had at that time these were awarded. In order to do this, we searched the public accounts made by the State to see if they had any works under execution at the time the payments were made. At the same time, the data that could be a reason for factual verification was corroborated. For example, based on newspapers archives, we verified that the officers involved were, in effect, at the places described by the driver. The same methodology was used to find out if the automobile that collects money entered the presidential residence in Olivos to seek instructions and then hand over the cash. All the records provided by the driver regarding the visits to the Quinta de Olivos were compared to the historical list of visits to the residence. Among many other ways of checking, the driver of the automobile wrote down the kilometers he travelled for some routes. Some of these routes were taken by bicycle and the distance was marked on a GPS tool to verify that the data were accurate. Other routes were made with digital maps. Finally, the team conducted approximately 50 interviews with different sources, some of them directly involved in the ploy. All of them were told about a specific fact that was of interest to them, but nobody was revealed the complete investigation.

Technologies Used

-Python -Lunrjs -Vue.js -Vuex -Gulp -Google Spreadsheet -Javascript -Turnjs -Jquery -Gulp Swig Templates

Project members

Diego Cabot, Candelaria Ini, Santiago Nasra, Momi Peralta Ramos, Pablo Loscri, Florencia Abd, Florencia Fernández Blanco, Cristian Bertelegni, Nicolás Bases, Bianca Pallaro, Carolina Ávila, Gabriela Bouret, Gastón de la Llana, Gabriela Miño, Florencia Coelho, Ana Gueller


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