Agro-industry Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere announced yesterday that he would return a controversial AR $500,000 bonus he got from the Argentine Rural Society, an association that groups the country’s largest rural producers and that he had presided since 2012 until President Macri tapped him to join his Cabinet last year.
Etchevehere took to Twitter to announce his decision, which was largely influenced by an upcoming resolution from the Anti-corruption Office (OA), which was going to recommend set to recommend he should give the money back.
Ever since the payment was made in November of 2017 (a week before being appointed by Macri) the Minister argued that receiving the bonus was not unethical since it was payment for his services at the helm of the organization between 2012 and 2017.
Even while explaining his reasons for giving it back yesterday, he continued to say there was no conflict.
“I fulfill my desire of ratifying my firm and unmovable commitment with ethics, legality and transparency, prioritizing the defense of my actions, convinced of having done so with the utmost correction, and the need to focus my energies and abilities on exercising the office with which I was honored, without sterile distractions,” says a statement he published yesterday on Twitter.
Tomé la decisión de reintegrar a la Sociedad Rural Argentina el reconocimiento extraordinario que me fuera otorgado por mi cargo ejercido como presidente de la entidad. pic.twitter.com/pceIKBHJBY
— Luis M Etchevehere (@lmetchevehere) February 1, 2018
When first asked by the OA about the reasons for getting a bonus, Etchevehere assured it was a fee for his work as president of the institution. And he continued to do so for two and a half months, until yesterday.
However, the Rural Society denied this from the very beginning, arguing that there were not pending payments for his services and that this was, in fact, an “exceptional payment”. Even 26 of the association’s delegates expressed their “profound disgust” with the decision to give half a million pesos to Etchevehere.
This was a key difference, as he had been informed by the OA that he would only be allowed to keep the money if it was indeed payment for his work at the organization previous to taking office.
According to La Nación, the Rural Society declined to comment after the minister’s decision to return the money. As the government is still dealing with the aftermath of the Triaca crisis, President Macri told his Cabinet that there’s no more margin for error in his administration. Casa Rosada sources told the newspaper that “this is a time to be careful.”
The OA is still expected to issue a recommendation on the matter.
This is not the only controversy the minister is embroiled in. In November, his estranged sister Dolores told Perfil that Etchevehere was being investigated for tax evasion and money laundering. She explained that there were 17 cases open against his brother and that “all of his companies have been put under trusteeships.”
“Why does [Macri] someone who is facing investigations as a minister? Someone who ’emptied’ the Diario Paraná newspaper company, where he owes salaries from three years ago?” she said back then.
In fact, it was her who pressed the charges against him in the case concerning the newspaper – based in the capital city of the Entre Ríos Province, Paraná -, an accusation for which he’ll have to testify before a judge on February 27.