The process to strip former Planning Minister Julio De Vido from his parliamentary immunity – and therefore send him to prison – begins today, as a special committee in the Chamber of Deputies, of which De Vido is still a member, will vote on whether to send the initiative to the floor.
Should this be the case, and it seems like it will, the rest of his peers will decide his fate tomorrow. Two thirds of the deputies present in the session will have to vote in favor of the request for him to be stripped from his immunity and possibly imprisoned on the same day.
The process follows the requests made by Federal Judges Luis Rodríguez and Claudio Bonadio, who last week concluded that a free De Vido could interfere in the different ongoing investigations against him by, for example, tampering witnesses.
Aware of the likely outcome, De Vido requested yesterday a leave of absence until the end of the year and resigned as chair of the Chamber’s energy and fuel committee. It was a maneuver aimed at proving he wouldn’t try to interfere – and keeping his immunity at the same time, because he would continue to be a deputy – but at least one of the judges has already made up his mind about it and this won’t be enough.
“Should the request be approved, I have instructed the Security Minister [Patricia Bullrich] to proceed with the immediate detention of Julio De Vido and posterior imprisonment at the 29th unit of the Federal Penitentiary Service,” explained Rodríguez in the ruling he sent to the Lower House.
Cambiemos’ representatives spearheading the initiative are confident on getting enough votes to reach the goal: “the numbers are there,” anticipated Nicolás Massot, leader of the PRO caucus in the Chamber. His certainty lies on the fact that the request doesn’t really come from them, but from two federal judges. Therefore, refusing to do their bidding would basically be going against the law.
Last July, the government’s representatives in Congress proposed to remove him for “moral inability,” product of the numerous charges against him. They efforts proved to be unfruitful, as the basis of the request caused for several lawmakers to oppose it, arguing that a court should determine that, because otherwise they would be declaring him guilty before learning the actual verdict. “Now there are two of them. There’s no room for excuses,” said Massot when consulted about the possibility of some deputies refusing to support them again.
In fact, even his colleagues from the Victory Front (FpV) could support the initiative. Finding themselves between a rock and a hard place, it’s not unlikely they will either vote to remove him or not attend the session in order to avoid throwing him under the bus but not look like they are going against the law at the same time.
What’s De Vido Being Accused of?
Río Turbio Case
De Vido has been formally accused of embezzling more than AR$ 260 from a project to revamp a massive coal mine and build an electric grid and a train in the city of Río Turbio, in the Santa Cruz Province. However, the sum could be much bigger. Between 2005 and 2015, the state destined AR$ 26 billion to the project, but the train doesn’t work and the mine, which should have been reactivated and its power used to feed the greed produced as much coal as it did in 1951.
“The mining complex had 70 percent fewer galleries than initially projected” and “produces 85 percent less than established. However, it has 233 percent more staff than it should,” argued Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli to substantiate his accusation.
This one investigates him for allegedly having the state pay more than it should for a shipment of liquid gas, and probably getting a kickback because of it.
Bonadio also ordered the detention of his former right-hand-man, Roberto Baratta. And since he doesn’t have parliamentary immunity, he’s going to prison. Both of them have also had his assets seized for a billion pesos. Yes, you read that right. That’s how much the judge believes they could have embezzled and is preventing them from getting read of their assets in case they are found guilty and think of bankrupting themselves to avoid compensating the state.