Driver’s notebooks exposed Argentina’s greatest corruption scandal ever: ten years and millions of cash bribes in bags

INVESTIGATION

ALL THE ARTICLES PUBLISHED IN LA NACION ABOUT THE SUBJECT

This investigation was published on august 2018 after 7 months of secrecy. So far, 73 individuals have been prosecuted including a former President, 40 have been imprisoned, other 40 already confessed their crimes and are waiting for oral judging and US$ 600 million had been seized.

More than 200 newspapers from the all over the world covered the news that broke in LA NACION, globally known as “The notebooks of bribes” (“Los cuadernos de las coimas”).

On january 2018, Diego Cabot, an investigative journalist from La Nación, was contacted by one of his sources. At the meeting, he was given eight notebooks that have been written by the driver of Roberto Baratta, the Secretary of Energy, an officer of the former Federal Planning Agency that included Energy, Transportation and Infrastructure. The Minister in charge was Julio De Vido, one of the most important officers during the 12 years of the Kirchner administration (from 2003 to 2015).

The notebooks contained a detailed record of each one of the routes the driver made for 10 years, taking Roberto Baratta and other officers to collect money in bags of cash representing bribes of several large companies of Argentina that have been awarded with public contracts.

From the beginning of the investigation, Diego Cabot, who has been a pioneer in data journalism since 2011, and a small team who accompanied him in the whole process, made two fundamental decisions. First, given the number of state officers and important businessmen involved, they decided not to publish anything until they could prove and verify most of the facts, No person, except for the team members and LA NACION´s Managing editor, knew anything about the investigation that was being carried out.

 

Second key decision: build a dataset from this handwritten notebooks. The 8 notebooks were transcribed to an Excel database. The team began working on each one of the records with all the objective elements that could be verified. The following columns were listed:

- Names and positions

- Adresses and destination of the routes

- Data from car plates

- Name of companies

- Places for the delivery

- Personal information of the individuals identified at the moment a bribe was paid.

- Amount of each one of the bribes

During the checking and verification process they consulted:

- Official gazette datasets and company records

- A large number of addresses using google maps

- The corporate information of the companies involved was gathered

- The amounts paid were compared to the Government accounting details

- The payment of bribes were cross checked with the information related to tenders and public contracts and the percentage of execution of each one to verify any relation to the amounts of money from bribes.

After checking and knowing that the whole matter was true, the team understood that they were working with the biggest corruption scheme ever revealed in Argentina. 

The content of this corruption scheme was formalized in a document and in March 2018, the journalist began a formal negotiation with a Federal Prosecutor (Carlos Stornelli). On April 10, a formal complaint was filed before justice.

There was a commitment between the Prosecutor’s office, the federal court and LA NACION: nobody could know anything about the cause and silence had to be absolute. “If the investigation was leaked, it would have been very dangerous and risky,” said the Prosecutor of the case some months later.

On the early morning of August 1st, seven months after Diego Cabot received the evidence, the case became known to the public and the Justice ordered 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 illicit association” (9608/2018). The Judge considered that the data provided proved 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 spending for infrastructure from the national government.

That same day, the Data team in LA NACION decided to compile all the spreadsheets that they had been previously worked on to deepen the analysis and processing of the notebook records. First, a check was made on the transcripts to verify that the amounts described, the individuals, the place of origin and destination that appeared handwritten in the notebooks were correct. This verification process was used to carry out a strict process of standardization and structuring of data in which currency and descriptions were unified and names and addresses were normalized. The exact date and time of the routes were also added.

On the other hand, a methodology was applied to classify each route, which was divided according to: a) if the bag of money was delivered to the head of the criminal bribery plan; b) whether it consisted of collecting the money given by the companies as a bribe. In addition, a series of tags were included to identify the relevance of each record.

 

Based on the classification, we created several dictionaries of equivalences because the notebooks contained various terms for the same concept. Example: “bag” = “suitcase” = “briefcase”. We did the same with personal names and addresses.

All the journalistic investigation work was accompanied by various applications and exclusive visualizations that allowed the user to browse in a digital and interactive way all the notebooks and current news on the subject. This included the full text searchable notebooks and the grouped by brives destiny visualizations . 

 

IMPACT

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 bribe money 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”).

 The case file accumulated 35 bodies of proceedings in federal court in one month, in addition to voluminous documents and annexes. There were 70 search warrants, 36 in the City of Buenos Aires, 24 in the Province of Buenos Aires, 7 in Misiones, 2 in Santa Cruz and 1 in Mendoza. Moreover, the Senate considered the request of the Judge to search the private addresses of former President Cristina Kirchner, 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.

More than two hundred and fifty (250) paintings were seized in possession of two accused for approximately thirty-seven million pesos ($37,000,000) and four million five hundred thousand pesos ($4,500,000). In addition, as a consequence of this, more than six million three hundred and fifty thousand pesos ($6,350,000), more than one million two hundred and forty-five thousand US Dollars (U$S 1,245,000), and two hundred and thirty-five thousand Euros (€ 235,000.00) were seized, as well as other currency: Chilean and Uruguayan Pesos and Brazilian Real, nine (9) firearms, mobile and electronic telephone equipment and finally, a large number of cars of different brands and models, many of them luxury cars.

 

Repercussion in the international press

- Bags of Cash in Argentina: Driver’s Notes Propel Corruption Inquiry – The New York Times

 Argentina notebook scandal: Driver details ‘decade of brives’ – BBC

Secret papers trigger argentine scandal: What you need to know – Bloomberg

Driver’s diaries of transporting bags of cash help Argentina score historic victory against corruption – Miami Herald

How a chauffeur could bring down Argentina’s political elite – Bloomberg

 

Diego Cabot and his team in LA NACION , thanks to their work in “The notebooks of brives” or “The notebooks of corruption” already won:

-The National Investigative Journalism Prize at the Argentinean Journalism Forum (FOPEA)

-The International Prize King of Spain (Rey de España)

-Society for News Design 

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Argentina’s Senate rejected the bill to legalize abortion

ONE BY ONE, HOW DID EACH SENATOR VOTE FOR THE BILL ON VOLUNTARY INTERRUPTION OF PREGNANCY

ABORTION: THE VOTES BETWEEN BOTH HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE SENATE, ACCORDING TO PROFESSION, AGE AND GENDER

CONTEXT

On August 8, the Senate voted the Bill on voluntary interruption of pregnancy after a preliminary approval at the House of Representatives a few weeks before. The bill established the possibility of having an abortion during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy at public hospitals. The bill was not approved that day and Argentine legislation only allows abortion in case of rape or in a life risk situation of the mother.

The day the abortion bill was defeated in the Senate

That bill divided Argentine society and the debate moves to the media, politics and society and it involves deeper feelings of each individual, since it questions the origins of human life, the position of a woman and her capacity to decide on her own body, among other subjects. There appeared “green scarfs” as a symbol of the fight of those women who were in favor of the decriminalization of abortion and, as opposed, there also appeared “light blue scarfs” showing another position against this legislative proposal and in favor of saving both lives (mother and child).

The day the abortion bill was defeated in the Senate

Women of all ages stayed long hours at the surroundings of the Congress waiting for a resolution

As days went by, the city of Buenos Aires was painted in both colors and, on the day the bill was voted in detail at the Senate, women of all ages stayed long hours at the surroundings of the Congress waiting for the legislative session. It was a cold day of August and the session lasted ten long hours. It rained, but nothing stopped those persons. The mere fact of being debating a taboo subject like this one was a historical milestone in our country. One could be in favor or against it, but it was impossible to be on the sidelines.

The whole country observed and listened to each Senator as he/she presented the reasons for his/her vote. The country was divided: half was green, and the other half was light blue. That day we saw how audiences grew in their interest on this topic and we decided to react and present on real time two projects to the audience: the online following up of the debate and a comparison between the vote at the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The day the abortion bill was defeated in the Senate

Argentina’s Senate rejected the bill to legalize abortion 

INNOVATION

Citizens followed the presentations of Senators as closely as we were watching a suspense movie, to be on the spot was very important. That is why, La Nación reused code to build a visualization that could follow that rhythm; it was important to know the final result of the vote and the vote of each one of the Senators on real time as well. The first interactive shows the faces of those persons representing us at the Senate, some of them are unknown for the audience in general. Moreover, the interactive adds the possibility of crossing variables to understand whether his/her age, religious belief, politic orientation or university background were related to their vote.

ONE BY ONE, HOW DID EACH SENATOR VOTE FOR DE BILL ON VOLUNTARY INTERRUPTION OF PREGNANCY

The second interactive, published early in the morning the day after, followed the same logic as the first one, but this time it analyzed and compared the votes between both House of Representatives and the Senate (257 Representatives/72 Senators), trying to find a pattern that answered the questions that many of us asked ourselves: did senior legislators vote against the bill and the younger ones, in favor?; do the Catholic ones support the 2 lives? Are lawyers against it? These and many more questions find their answers in both visualizations.

ABORTION: THE VOTES BETWEEN BOTH HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES AND THE SENATE, ACCORDING TO PROFESSION, AGE AND GENDER

 

IMPACT

The project concerning how each Senator voted based on each Senator’s different demographic indicators became the most read article of the day. In social media, gender-filtered visualization was shared because it was clear that 60% of all male Senators voted against abortion, while the percentage among women is 50%. It was remarkable for the female audience since it was a fundamental public policy for women and they claimed that it had not been approved because it had been left in the hands of the men in the House (who are in the majority).

At the same time, the filter of age and political orientation was also shared repetitively. The only women under 40 years old voted in favor, while among the rest of the senior Senators, there was much disparity in the vote. And as regards the orientation and political parties, it was very clear that the pro-government party has the majority of its Senators against the bill.

The day the abortion bill was defeated in the Senate

Moreover, the visualization regarding the vote of the Senators compared to that of the members of the House of Representatives allowed to give a wider visibility to the subject, since it included the whole Congress as well as the possibility that the user understands in a visual way how each legislator voted, who were absent and whether the socio-demographic factors had any impact on each chamber.

SOURCE AND METHODOLOGY

Google Spreadsheet and Google Spreadsheet API was used to upload each one of the votes in real time. The session lasted until 3 o’clock in the morning and data were completed as each speaker gave his/her opinion and we verified it with the minutes published by each House.

As regards socio-demographic data: age, gender, political orientation, province, university degree and termination of office, a database made for the opening day of sessions at the Congress on March 1st was reused.

It was a comprehensive survey, a data journalist telephoned the 257 members of the House of Representatives and 72 Senators, a total of 329 individuals. This was manually performed for two months, since many had been elected a few months ago.

TECHNOLOGIES

The first interactive was made using HTML5 and CSS3. It was also used a JavaScript library named VUE which enables a faster uploading and its fragmentation. Thus, during the vote at the Senate, part of the interactive was highlighted on the home of La Nación website (bars and counting), and the complete interactive (filters and faces) could be seen inside the article. The second interactive was made on Tableau and both visualizations used the Google datasheet. One person uploaded the votes on real time and both visualizations were automatically updated (Google Spreadsheet and API).

The day the abortion bill was defeated in the Senate

 

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LA NACION DATA Website

Meet the team!

>>> lanacion.com.ar/data <<<

Project Description

LA NACION DATA website is not just a website, it´s a strategy, a project and a team. The strategy has to do with the commitment of using data to tell stories and expand the use of data, preferably open data, to activate demand of public information, in a country that just passed a FOIA law.

The internal strategy is to work in teams with journalists, tv producers and infographers so we just facilitate the data and help in the investigation or analysis, but they are the ones who domain the topic and know how to tell the stories.  Seguir leyendo

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Chronology of a violent day: the most dramatic hours

Date of publication

18-12-2017

>>> Live  Link <<<

Description of the project

It was a minute-by-minute coverage of the events occurred the day of the legislative debate of the pension system reform at the House of Representatives at the City of Buenos Aires. Several social organizations made protestation in different areas of the city to show disagreement about the bill submitted by the Executive Power.

A few minutes before constituting quorum for the transaction of business, it began a violent confrontation between demonstrators and the police which resulted in a historical day of violence: there was commotion in the streets of Buenos Aires with wounded people, persons under arrest and damages.

What makes this project innovative?

Although many news articles have been written on this regard, the order of information established for this article was useful for people to have a better comprehension of events and an order of the events in the middle of an information chaos. The use of infographies, photographs and videos were useful to show the audience a more correct dimension of the most important event of the last few weeks of the year.  Seguir leyendo

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LA NACION DATA TEAM (ARGENTINA)

Project Description

Since 2011 LN Data has been a strategy, a content initiative and a team whose goals are to facilitate open data journalism in LA NACION and impact for change in Argentina.

Our team has been formed by the same initial three members, Ricardo, data engineer for investigative reporting in LN Data, Flor, research and training in digital media trends and open data and Momi Peralta. We grew from there year after year. Today we are 10, including  data miner Gaby, data producer Romina, two back and front end developers Nico and Cristian, a librarian and archivist Gabriela and two journalists with data and scripting skills Carolina and Bianca 2017.

But the truth is that  we are never just 10 because our strategy is not to be a special centralized investigative unit, but a platform for all our newsroom to facilitate data, innovation, technology and skills for data journalism crossing all platforms and sections including LA NACION in its Tv channel.

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