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Thu Mar 14, 2019, 12:03 PM

Argentina: Judge overseeing Extorsiongate case testifies in Congress

Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla, who oversees a case involving a massive extortion scheme involving millions in ransom payments and false testimony coerced against political opponents, testified in front of Argentina's Congress yesterday.

Ramos Padilla discussed the developing extortion case against Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli and his close associate, Marcelo d'Alessio.

Evidence gleaned from d'Alessio's mobile phones and hard drives implicate two pro-government congresswomen, the nation's leading right-wing daily (Clarín), Argentina's intelligence agency AFI (headed by a business partner of President Mauricio Macri), and elements in the U.S. Government.

"This is a para-state network of ideological, political and judicial espionage of great magnitude," the judge said before the Committee on Freedom of Expression. "A web of illegal intelligence operations linked to the judiciary, government, security forces, political powers, and the media."

He was invited to testify by committee chairman Leopoldo Moreau after the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Senator Juan Carlos Marino - a staunch Macri loyalist - refused to do so.

Other members of Macri's "Let's Change" caucus avoided the hearing altogether, including congresswomen Elisa Carrió and Paula Olivetto - both of whom are implicated in the scandal.

U.S. intelligence links

d'Alessio, the judge explained, claimed to work for U.S. intelligence, and had embassy documents, CIA manuals, and U.S.-issued weapons in his possession.

Messages gleaned from his phone showed d'Alessio discussing espionage against Uruguay, his coercing false testimony from a lawyer for Venezuela's PdVSA, and his reporting via diplomatic pouch to "our headquarters in Maine."

d'Alessio also boasted in messages to using data stolen from the state energy agency ENARSA as an NSA spy to help frame former Public Works Minister Julio de Vido and his deputy, Roberto Baratta. David Cohen, who prepared the falsified report, was indicted on March 8.

Other documents suggest offers from U.S. President Donald Trump's political staff to provide "media coaching" to Macri for his 2019 re-election campaign. Help with potential judicial and media operations was also mentioned.

The U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, which denied ties to d'Alessio, refused to cooperate with Judge Ramos Padilla, and refused to comment.


d'Alessio, 48, was arrested on February 15, a week after 22 hours of incriminating audio and video collected by farmer Pedro Etchebest, from whom d'Alessio sought a $300,000 ransom, was submitted to journalist Horacio Verbitsky.

The tapes, made throughout January, show d'Alessio boasting that some $12 million in bribes had been collected by Stornelli since August.

The recordings also implicate among others Clarín writer Daniel Santoro - a close d'Alessio friend and author of numerous debunked claims against Macri's leading opponent, former President Cristina Kirchner.

And while Stornelli denied knowing d'Alessio, video and WhatsApp messages show a close working relationship between the two - as well as with Macri's hard-line Security Minister Patricia Bullrich.

Stornelli, charged on March 6 as a co-conspirator, was summoned to testify by Judge Ramos Padilla but refused to appear. He has likewise refused to turn in any cell phones - though Gustavo Sáenz, another close Macri ally and reputed bag man in the scheme, has.

Running on empty

Federal authorities have meanwhile refused to transport d'Alessio and two co-defendants (both former AFI agents) from Buenos Aires to Judge Ramos Padilla's court in Dolores, just 125 mi away, claiming "a lack of fuel." They informed the judge that they do not intend to take him to Dolores until March 23.

"We've been denied assistance and resources," the judge testified, "and they inform the public when I am without security."

Amid a severe economic crisis, Macri is facing job disapproval of 70% and has relied on corruption allegations against Kirchner and her former officials to boost his reelection chances this year.

"This is the gravest institutional scandal since democracy returned to Argentina (in 1983)," Committee Chairman Leopoldo Moreau said.

"This is a mafia dedicated to framing opponents, coercing false testimony, and espionage."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.pagina12.com.ar%2F180623-es-una-red-ilegal-de-grandes-magnitudes

Argentine Federal Judge Alejo Ramos Padilla presenting evidence gathered from extortionist Marcelo d'Alessio during his testimony yesterday as Committee Chairman Leopoldo Moreau looks on.

The judge described "a web of illegal intelligence operations linked to the judiciary, government, security forces, political powers, and the media" as well as U.S. intelligence.

Besides illicit enrichment, evidence points to the goal of framing opponents in order to boost Macri's flagging re-election chances this year.

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