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Fri Aug 24, 2018, 06:00 PM

Buenos Aires Province School Infrastructure head fired on padded contract allegations, two deaths

The Director of School Infrastructure for Argentina's Buenos Aires Province, Mateo Nicholson, was dismissed today amid a brewing scandal over allegations of submitting padded contracts, and following two deaths in a public school gas explosion.

Governor Marķa Eugenia Vidal has faced mounting calls to dismiss Nicholson since audio emerged on June 15 which appears to show him arranging a padded contract - particularly after the August 2 death of a principal and substitute teacher during a gas explosion in a grade school west of Buenos Aires.

"I'm meeting Marķa Eugenia tomorrow, and I need to invent the missing budgets," he can be heard saying. "Give me the total on those 79 ovens and make it for 80 million (pesos), which is what I requested - because what you gave me worked out to 700,000 pesos each for the first 17. Overshoot that number."

Nicholson's order, which implies an overpayment of 300,000 pesos ($12,000 at the time) per oven, came with a detailed instruction as to how to avoid suspicion:

"Don't make it a round number: give me a quote for, say, 1,064,000 pesos each. And don't worry about the exact figure; we'll fix it in the draft proposal."

The corruption scandal and subsequent tragedy have created a new political headache for Governor Marķa Eugenia Vidal, an ultraconservative member of President Mauricio Macri's right-wing "Let's Change" alliance.

Vidal, widely rumored to being groomed by the unpopular Macri to run in his stead in next year's presidential elections, is already facing a federal investigation over evidence uncovered since June that her party's 2017 mid-term campaigns in Buenos Aires Province laundered around 45 million pesos ($3 million at the time) in illegal contributions.

Possible campaign finance ties to Nicholson's overpayments are also being investigated.

As head of the nation's largest province (home to 38% of Argentines), Vidal, 44, became a media darling after winning the 2015 governor's race in an upset.

One of the nation's most popular politicians just last year, her job approval has declined to 34% amid violent crackdowns on protesters, a series of scandals, and the worst recession since 2002.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pagina12.com.ar%2F137511-eyectado-tras-la-explosion&edit-text=

Nicholson and his political mentor, far-right governor Marķa Eugenia Vidal.

Facing an imploding debt bubble, Argentina's Macri was believed to favor tapping Vidal to run in his stead next year. Recent events may have forced him to reconsider.

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