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Argentine Prosecutor Wants President Macri Investigated Because of the Panama Papers

The prosecutor says Macri may have committed a crime by not including information about offshore companies he was involved with in the declaration of his assets he made when he was mayor of Buenos Aires.

by Gaston Cavanagh
Apr 7 2016, 11:10pm

Imagen por David Fernandez/EPA

An Argentine prosecutor has asked a judge to open an investigation into whether President Mauricio Macri committed the crime of "malicious omission" by failing to declare his role in offshore companies.

The move follows Macri's inclusion among 12 heads of state revealed to have links to offshore companies set up by the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. The revelations stem from a massive leak of 11.5 million documents from the firm that is known as the Panama Papers.

The cache showed that Macri was the director of a company called Fleg Trading that was created in 1998 domiciled in the Bahamas, and in operation until 2009. Separate investigations in Argentina also uncovered that the president was director of another offshore company created in 1981 and based in Panama. It is not clear if the company, that was called Kagemusha, is still in operation.

Macri did not include either company in any of the declarations of his assets he has made as an elected official. Particular attention has been paid to the period in which he was mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007 and 2008.

Now federal prosecutor Federico Delgado is arguing that an investigation is needed to find out whether Macri's failure to mention the company constitutes a crime.

"Malicious omission consists of deliberately omitting information in the sworn declaration that officials are obliged to make," Delgado told Radio Continental. If the probe is opened and leads to charges, a conviction could bring with it a sentence of between 15 days and two years in prison.

The prosecutor's request for an investigation stems from a legal complaint filed by a congressional deputy Norman Martínez from the opposition party Front for Victory.

Related: The Panama Papers Claim Their First Head in Latin America ––A Transparency Activist

Since the furor over the Panama Papers began on Sunday, Macri has repeatedly insisted that he was under no obligation to declare his involvement with the companies because he was merely an honorary director named by his father, Franco Macri. He has said he did not own shares or receive payment for his services.

His denials of illegality, however, have done little to defuse the rising pressure on the president who was elected last December promising zero tolerance for corruption. He also promised a new way of doing politics in the wake of the often opaque administration of his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Macri responded to the news of the prosecutor's request for an investigation with the announcement of a proposal for a new transparency law. He also revealed that he will be putting all his assets into a blind trust administered by a group of "independent people."

"They are going to have control of all my assets and will administer them throughout my public administration," he said. "I am doing this because I don't want there to be any doubt about our relationship."

Macri also announced he would voluntarily present himself on Friday at a civil court in order to present a declaration that can then be formally verified.

Earlier in the day, a presidential spokesman told VICE News that the government would welcome an investigation in the criminal court, as the prosecutor is seeking. "It's a good thing that a process has been started and that it is investigated and that it is proven that there was no crime committed," the spokesman said.

Political analyst Rosendo Fraga said that the president's legalistic focus is not helping him deal with the scandal.

"Macri is facing the problem of the Panama Papers as if it were a legal problem, but the truth is that it is a political problem," he said. "It may have a good judicial answer but, at the very least, this is an issue that both confuses and complicates the governments efforts to claim to be bringing more transparent."

The request for a probe of the president is now in the Buenos Aires court headed by Sebastián Casanello.

Judge Casanello is also heading one of several investigations ¡into alleged corruption and money laundering that appear to be closing in on former president Fernández, who is suddenly looking vulnerable since she left office in December.

On Wednesday Casanello ordered the arrest of Lázaro Báez who was taken to prison immediately after his private jet landed in Buenos Aires. Báez is a close Fernández associate, a friend of her late husband, the former president Néstor Kirchner, and a beneficiary of numerous government contracts. He is accused of being the Kirchner family's front man who helped set up a money laundering network.

Fernández herself has been called to declare next week in a separate case involving an investigation into currency sales that allegedly generated profits for a select group of individuals and businesses.

Related: The VICE News Guide to the Panama Papers

Follow Gastón Cavanagh on Twitter: @gastoncavanagh