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Macri, top officials, and tennis great Gaston Gaudio charged with fraud in Qatar offshore trust case

Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Vice President Gabriela Michetti, Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, and numerous other Macri administration officials and associates were charged with governmental fraud today in a case stemming from a November 6 agreement signed with Qatar involving the creation of a new, offshore investment trust with no stated purpose.

The case, overseen by the Third Federal Criminal and Correctional Court presided by Judge Daniel Rafecas, also resulted in charges for Foreign Ministry official Horacio Reyser, the recently dismissed Social Security fund director Luis María Blaquier, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman José Ortíz Amaya (of Macri's "Let's Change" coalition), Macri business associate Diego Rosendi, and former tennis pro Gastón Gaudio.

Gaudio, a vocal supporter of the right-wing Macri administration, is acquainted with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, and is believed by prosecutors to have acted as a lobbyist and unofficial intermediary. He faces possible additional charges of influence peddling, given that he handled and shared confidential state information without having an official post himself.

Negotiations for this agreement began during Sheikh Al-Thani's state visit to Buenos Aires on July 28. The Argentine government ultimately entered into a then-secret agreement with Qatar on November 6 to create an offshore investment trust funded with $300 million from Argentina's social security fund (FGS) and $1 billion from the Qatari Investment Authority (QIA). The fund, to be administered through an unnamed third party, had no official purpose or mandate.

Following a criminal complaint filed on November 30 by Fernando Míguez of the Foundation for Peace and Climate Change, Prosecutor Paloma Ochoa requested that a formal investigation be opened to determine possible commission of crimes in the signing of the agreement with Qatar. A stay against any implementation of the agreement was furthermore requested until the case can be closed.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.politicargentina.com%2Fnotas%2F201612%2F18629-imputaron-a-macri-michetti-malcorra-e-incluso-al-extenista-gato-gaudio-por-firma-del-memorando-con-qatar.html


The three moneyteers: Sheikh Al-Thani; tennis pro Gastón Gaudio; and Mr. Panama Papers, President Macri.[/center]

NYC's iconic Carnegie Deli closes after 79 years in Midtown

After 79 years of serving up heaps of cured meat to tourists, theater patrons and workaday New Yorkers, the Carnegie Delicatessen will slice its last ridiculously oversized sandwich on Friday.

Fans lined up all week for a last bite at the restaurant, which got a star turn in Woody Allen's 1984 film Broadway Danny Rose and remained a stop until the end for out-of-towners looking for the classic New York deli experience.

The Carnegie, its walls now lined with photos of celebrities who have eaten there, opened in 1937, drawing its name from Carnegie Hall just a block up 7th Avenue.

Aside from the long lines out on the sidewalk (and unusually high prices), the place screams old New York, from its vintage neon sign, to the items on the menu: slices of cheesecake, knishes, tongue, and chopped liver, and a $30 reuben.

The restaurant reopened last February after being closed for nearly a year amid an investigation into a possible illegal natural gas hookup, discovered after a utility crew found a diverted line while they were investigating a leak.

The personal lives of owner Marian Harper and her husband Sandy were thrust into the public spotlight with a messy divorce after she accused him of having an affair with a hostess and slipping her cash and pastrami recipes. The deli was also ordered to pay $2.6 million in back wages to its employees after a labor dispute.

Harper has insisted the closure has nothing to do with any of those issues. She's said her long hours at the deli have taken a toll and she wants to take time to enjoy her life. A spokeswoman for the deli said in September that Harper would focus on licensing the brand and selling products for wholesale distribution.

The restaurant is scheduled to close at midnight after a last full day of business Friday. It will still have outposts in Las Vegas; Bethlehem, PA; Madison Square Garden; and at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens.

At: http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/NYC-Iconic-Carnegie-Deli-Closes-After-79-Years-in-Midtown-Pastrami-408733955.html


Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner pushes back, calling her indictment political persecution.

Hours after being indicted by Federal Judge Julián Ercolini for her alleged involvement in orchestrating a scheme to embezzle public funds through public works contracts during her administration, former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner took to social media to weigh in on the issue.

In a letter entitled “Postcards for New Year's Eve,” Fernández de Kirchner claimed to be the victim of political persecution and criticized Macri, his administration and the judges in charge of the cases against her, a number of whom have a record of routinely clearing Macri allies even in cases where public documentation proves wrongdoing.

Her indictment comes as polls show the populist former president running ahead of two major candidates in the key Buenos Aires Province Senate race next year, with Macri's candidate coming in third.

Recession and political prisoners

Macri, who took office a year ago, is facing falling approval ratings despite favorable media coverage as the recession worsens. GDP was reported today to have fallen 4.7% in October over the same time last year - the deepest recession since the 2002 debacle.

“They fired the Economy Minister after claiming the economy is doing very well. That’s why Macri is on vacation until next year. In flooded Pergamino they sent people not to help but to repress them. Argentina spent the first Christmas with political prisoners since democracy returned,” she wrote in reference to the imprisonment of indigenous social leader Milagro Sala since January.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the OAS, and the UN - as well as Pope Francis - consider Sala a political prisoner and have called for her immediate release.

Double standards

Fernández argued that the multiple court rulings against her illustrate how the judicial system is being partial, favoring the Macri administration or its allies in cases such as the dollar futures scandal (in which the Central Bank lost $4 billion - but many in Macri's entourage profited - when he devalued the peso by 40% overnight last year).

“Judge Ercolini, whose wife is a spokesperson for Macri's Minister of Justice, now calls our constitutional administrations criminal conspiracies,” Fernández said, adding that this was the same methodology used by Argentina's right-wing dictatorships to persecute political opponents in the past.

“As writer José Saramago said,” Fernández concluded, “real power doesn’t show itself and doesn’t run for office. No one chooses it and it doesn’t like to be named or pointed at. And that’s what we did: show what could not be shown, judge what could not be judged, say what was forbidden to mention. Doing that has a price; nothing is free.”

At: http://www.thebubble.com/criminal-conspiracy-cfk-denounces-political-persecution-orchestrated-by-the-government/

Prat-Gay fired as Argentine Finance Minister after one year

Argentine Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay was fired on Monday after just one year in the post as a long-heralded recovery in the economy fails to materialize.

The ministry he headed will now be split into two, with close Macri family associate Luis Caputo, who was finance secretary, heading the new Finance Ministry and Nicolás Dujovne, a co-founder of President Mauricio Macri's right-wing think tank Pensar, overseeing the Economy Ministry.

President Macri requested Prat-Gay’s resignation following disagreements over economic policy, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña said. The economy has sunk into recession this year, defying Macri’s forecast that it would return to growth in the second half. The inflation rate has likewise defied Macri's projections of "20 to 25%," rising from 24% in November 2015 to 45% currently.

"Economic policies were very erratic, with bad results," said Eduardo Hecker, a former securities regulator who now heads consultancy DEL. “By firing Prat-Gay, Macri has found the perfect scapegoat for this situation.”

Gross domestic product fell 3.8% in the third quarter from a year earlier, the statistics agency reported on Dec. 22 as rising prices eroded people’s purchasing power; it had grown by 2.5% in 2015, the year before Macri took office.

At: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-26/prat-gay-resigns-as-argentine-finance-minister-after-one-year

Bucking austerity, Argentine Congress passes $1.8 billion social spending hike and $3 bn. tax cut

Following a month of heated debate and negotiations, Argentina's Congress has passed a fiscal stimulus package of two major spending bills to be included in the 2017 Budget: an increase in social benefits of $1.8 billion over the next three years; and a 23% adjustment in income tax exemptions projected to cost $3 billion annually.

The bills will now be submitted to President Mauricio Macri, who had initially opposed both proposals. Massive protests and pressure from a reunited CGT labor federation forced Macri to reconsider, however, as did the most severe recession in Argentina since 2002.

Macri's enactment - mostly by decree - of an austerity package endorsed by the IMF has led to a decline in GDP of 3.8% as of the third quarter, 8.5% lower retail sales as of November, and to inflation rates that have jumped from 24% to 45% (the highest in 25 years). Recession has also pushed already high budget deficits up by two-thirds in the first ten months of 2016.

These trends, evident early on, already prompted Macri to sign a $2 billion social spending increase in April.

Social Emergency Law

The first bill - known as the Social Emergency Law - was passed by the Senate on December 14 with 49 out of 72 votes, with all 23 opposing Senators (mostly members of Macri's right-wing 'Let's Change' alliance) abstaining rather than vote against the popular legislation. The Lower House had passed the bill on December 6 with even greater majorities: 228 out of 257, with just one negative vote (from Macri's caucus).

The centerpiece of this bill is a 15% increase to Universal Childhood Entitlements (AUH) beyond already budgeted figures, as well as a 1,000-peso ($60) Christmas bonus per enrolled child.

The AUH, enacted in 2009 by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, benefits nearly 4 million children in 2.2 million families with payments of 1,100 pesos ($70) a month currently. The program, whose $3 billion annual cost is financed by the ANSES social security agency, has been widely credited with nearly eliminating childhood malnutrition as well as increasing school enrollment and immunization rates.

The bill also stipulated the creation of 1 million jobs through a boost in public financing for worker co-ops and micro-enterprises. A Popular Economy Council and a National Registry (RENATREP) will be established to monitor these programs as well as its progress.

An estimated 3 million wage earners would also qualify for assistance. This number would be about evenly divided between the roughly 1.5 million (out of 4.5 million) self-employed believed to be in poverty, as well as another 1.5 million (out of 4 million) unregistered employees earning less than the current minimum wage of approximately $2.40 an hour.

A publicly-financed wage supplement would be made available to cover any gaps in pay below this figure.

Income Tax reform

Passage of the Social Emergency Law was part of a broader congressional stimulus initiative that also included an Income Tax Reform Law, passed overwhelmingly by the Lower House today. The bill, passed with 166 yeas and just 5 nays, follows passage in the Senate yesterday by a similarly lopsided 56 yeas and 2 nays.

Whereas the first bill was designed to mitigate worsening economic conditions among the poor, the Income Tax Reform Law was designed to benefit middle and upper-middle income taxpayers primarily by raising personal and family exemptions.

The second bill would raise these exemptions by around 23% - to 28,000 pesos ($1,730) a month for single filers with no dependents, and to 37,000 pesos ($2,280) a month for married files with two children. Doing so would largely reverse the back-door tax increase decreed by President Macri a year ago, when exemptions were ostensibly raised - but with a methodology change that added hundreds of thousands of formerly exempt taxpayers by way of bracket creep.

Accordingly, this would cut the number of affected taxpayers from 2.2 million currently - and a projected 2.7 million in 2017 - to an estimated 1.4 million (out of 12 million registered wage earners in Argentina). New exemptions for rents paid and for overtime and holiday earnings were also incorporated.

The cost of raising income tax exemptions and deductions - estimated at $3 billion a year - would be partly mitigated by tax increases on financial transactions (around $600 million in added revenue), gambling ($450 million), and business income ($200 million) on 1.2 million employers.

Money does not buy happiness

The Macri administration, who had made growing budget deficits a central campaign issue last year and had pledged to the IMF and international investors that it would be reduced, initially balked at the price tag for both bills.

Administration surrogates repeatedly referred to both bills as "irresponsible," "shameful," and "designed to be vetoed." Macri himself rationalized what was an increasingly unpopular stance by noting that "money does not buy happiness."

Massive protests in cities nationwide, however, as well as polls showing strong support for both bills and waning support for Macri's coalition ahead of mid-term elections this October, prompted the administration to accept a round of negotiations called for by the CGT (Argentina's largest labor federation) and by leading social activist groups.

The bills' authors, most of whom belonged to the populist Front for Victory (FpV) led until last year by former President Cristina Kirchner, credited the Macri cabinet officials negotiating on behalf of the administration - Social Policy Minister Carolina Stanley on the Social Emergency Law, and Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio in the case of the tax cuts - for their constructive role in the talks.

"The administration," said FpV Senate caucus leader Miguel Ángel Pichetto, "was committed to dialogue."

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.infonews.com/nota/304419/el-senado-aprobo-el-proyecto-de-emergencia&prev=search

And: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.infonews.com/nota/304649/ya-es-ley-la-nueva-reforma-de-ganancias&prev=search

After writing off $1.2 billion electric utility debt, Argentina's Macri blames A/C use for crisis

Speaking at an official Energy Ministry event on Thursday, Argentine President Mauricio Macri called air conditioning "part of that explosive and sinister cocktail invented by the previous administration."

The statement, part of a speech in which he chided his fellow countrymen for what he considered to be excessive energy use, referred to the policy maintained by his predecessor, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of providing generous energy subsidies to residential, commercial, and industrial consumers.

Energy subsidies, both direct and indirect, reached $17.5 billion in 2015 according to the IMF. Such subsidies reached 10.5% of the federal budget that year, though in relation to GDP (2.8%) remained modest compared to energy subsidies in neighboring Chile (3.3%), the U.S. (3.8% of GDP), India (12.3%), or China (20.1%).

Rate hikes and debt write-offs

Despite repeated campaign promises to the contrary, Macri announced massive utility rate hikes shortly taking office a year ago. These hikes have averaged 400% more for water, electricity, and gas - as well as gasoline and public transport fare increases of 100%.

Touted as a way to trim $4 billion from the nation's budget deficit of $24 billion last year (3.9% of GDP) these hikes - known in Argentina as tarifazos - were imposed in April as part of a broader, IMF-endorsed austerity package implemented within days of taking office.

The Macri administration, on the other hand, used its decree powers on November 14 to write off some $1.2 billion in debts owed by the nation's electric utilities to the federal electricity distributor CAMMESA.

The write-off was itself necessitated by sharp losses at the nation's electric utilities since the hikes took effect because while their receipts have doubled, power generation costs skyrocketed by way of sharply higher natural gas prices. This led to a collapse in net income for electric utilities from a $75 million profit in the first quarter of 2016 to a loss of $150 million in the second.

Critics point out moreover that because the rate hikes also affect schools, hospitals, and many other public institutions, net fiscal savings would be at most $1 billion - a figure dwarfed by the $10 billion in tax cuts Macri enacted for agro-exporters, the mining sector, and on imported luxury goods.

The effect of these and other trickle-down tax cuts, combined with the sharpest recession since 2002, have pushed Argentina's federal budget deficit up by two-thirds in peso terms through October.

Macri made the nation's rising budget deficit was key campaign theme in 2015 elections, which he narrowly won. Inflation has likewise risen from 24% to 45% as of November - the highest reading since January 1992.

Air conditioning in the winter

A poll conducted by the University of Buenos Aires School of Social Sciences showed that 77% of Argentines have had to make "significant adjustments" in their household budgets to afford these rate hikes. Partly as a result, retail sales were down 8.5% in November from the same time last year.

The administration and its surrogates nevertheless often chastise the public for what they see as wasteful household habits.

Macri himself has described his fellow countrymen as given to "walking around in their underclothes in winter" and "setting the thermostat at 65° in the summer, when 75° should be comfortable enough." First Lady Juliana Awada herself admitted in a 2015 interview that the couple "enjoy turning the air conditioning on even in winter - so much so we have to sleep stuck to each other."

"She's like that," Macri explained at the time. "She likes me close."

At: http://www.diarioregistrado.com/politica/macri-acuso-a-cristina-de-haber-permitido-que-la-gente-compre-aires-acondicionados_a58530fcdcc4faf9272f0915a

And: http://www.diarioregistrado.com/politica/el-gobierno-de-macri-le-perdono-a-las-electricas-una-deuda-de---19-000-millones_a582a0a9e0c297bac2b68c2ce

Macri cousins, top public works beneficiaries, buy bank based in Buenos Aires and the Cayman Islands

The Central Bank of Argentina approved the purchase of an inactive offshore bank by the brothers Ángelo and Fabio Calcaterra, first cousins of Argentine President Mauricio Macri.

Banco Interfinanzas, based in Buenos Aires and the Cayman Islands, has but one private office in each location and no branches. The purchase price - $27 million - was reportedly twice its appraised book value.

Originally opened in 1976 as an investment banking subsidiary of the defunct Austrian bank Creditanstalt, Interfinanzas' extensive use of offshoring in the Caymans, Panama, and Uruguay was mentioned in congressional hearings as early as 2001. Its collapse 2002 affected 570 individual and 19 institutional investors in Argentina, and following a spate of lawsuits it ceased operations in 2011.

A previous attempt by the Calcaterras to seize Interfinanzas in 2015 was nixed by the nation's Money Laundering Prosecutor’s Office (PROCELAC) following a complaint filed by Solicitor General Alejandra Gils Carbó - whom the Macri administration has been trying to remove.

The application was approved by the Central Bank on December 6 only after its president, Federico Sturzenegger, lifted a year-old sanction against Ángelo Calcaterra for import finance violations worth $16 million.

Sturzenegger lifted the sanctions just days after being confirmed as Central Bank President by the Senate; he was appointed by Macri a year ago by decree.

Poor cousins

The Calcaterras and their partner in the venture, Fernando Mauro, are now legally obligated to capitalize the bank with at least $5 million within a month of taking control. Their Central Bank affidavit declared that the proceeds will originate in sales of local real estate and of "overseas investments."

Congresswoman Gabriela Cerruti, however, warns that the bank will instead be used to launder proceeds from massive federal public works contracts awarded by President Macri to his cousins' construction firms, IECSA, ODS, and Creaurban.

After transferring nominal ownership of these firms to their "poor cousins" the Calcaterras in 2007, the group's public contracts portfolio reached $1.8 billion while Macri was Mayor of Buenos Aires - making them Argentina's third largest public contractor. A further $3 billion in federal contracts have been awarded to IECSA since Macri took office as President a year ago.

President Macri was one of just five current world leaders named in the Panama Papers scandal this April, and 30 undeclared offshore accounts have since been found in his name of his family's.

At: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nuestrasvoces.com.ar%2Finvestigaciones%2Ffavor-favor-se-paga%2F
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