Sunday, April 11, 2021

Argentine Fabián Gutiérrez who testified against vice-president Kirchner in corruption case found dead


A former private secretary to Argentina’s vice-president has been murdered, fuelling speculation that he was targeted for being a whistleblower in a corruption case.

The body of Fabián Gutiérrez, 48, who for years worked closely with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and later testified against her, was found at a house on the outskirts of El Calafate in Patagonia on Saturday, two days after he went missing. Four people have been arrested.

Opposition politicians claim that he was killed for his role in uncovering a landmark corruption case known as the cuadernos, or notebooks, scandal. Officials with the centre-right Juntos por el Cambio coalition have demanded that the murder investigation be passed on to the federal court, on the grounds that a prosecutor involved in the case, Natalia Mercado, is a niece of the vice-president.

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“The crime of Fabián Gutiérrez is of enormous institutional gravity and cannot be left to the prosecutor Mercado, daughter of governor Alicia Kirchner,” they said in a statement.

Dozens of Argentinian politicians and businessmen have been arrested and jailed in the notebooks investigation, accused of taking bribes worth hundreds of millions of dollars for public works contracts.

For ten years a government driver, Oscar Centeno, claimed he had kept eight notebooks in which he recorded his collections and deliveries of more than $160 million in “black money” to properties across Buenos Aires. Ms Kirchner’s private home and the presidential residence are alleged to appear in his notes.

The money exchanges were said to have been carried out over at least a decade, including during Ms Kirchner’s time as president, from 2007 to 2015, and in the years before that when her husband, Néstor, was president. He died in 2010.

Mrs Kirchner, 67, faced corruption charges in September 2018. Her partial parliamentary immunity, however, first as a senator, and today as the vice-president of Argentina, protects her from prosecution.

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Alberto Fernández, who took over as president last year, dismissed speculation of government involvement in Mr Gutiérrez’s death as “scummy”. He told a local radio station: “By only insinuating that the motive behind it was the notebooks and that the government is involved is a miserable attitude.”

Ms Kirchner is yet to comment on the latest developments but has previously denied wrongdoing in separate cases in which she is accused of money laundering, illegal enrichment and state fraud. Some of the notebooks money — wads of dollars and euros — was laundered, but investigators are convinced that a large sum was hidden in Patagonia.

Mr Gutiérrez was himself named in the notebooks, and had served time in jail. He had begun co-operating with prosecutors as a “collaborating witness” in exchange for a reduced prison term.

He became a wealthy businessman on stepping down from his secretarial position in 2010, local media reported.

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