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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