A scandal involving an illegal gambling ring in Argentina that received support from prosecutors and politicians is entering its next phase. A senator who thought he had constitutional immunity from prosecution may not be so lucky.
More than two years after the beginning of an investigation that already has already led to some convictions and charges, like those against former prosecutor Patricio Serjal, the case continues. Two prosecutors looking to hold anyone involved accountable have taken their arguments to one of Argentina’s highest courts, which acknowledged this week that it’s willing to listen.
Judge Bibiana Alonso accepted the request of prosecutors Matías Edery and Luis Schiappa Pietra. As a result, the case against Senator Armando Traferri won’t go to the trash can, as the senator hoped, and will be decided by Argentina’s Supreme Court.
No Immunity For Criminals
It isn’t clear when the Supreme Court will rule on this case; the first step is for Office of the Attorney General (AG) to weigh in. That will likely happen before the end of the year, although subsequent action isn’t likely until 2023.
The AG, Eduardo Casal, has to approve the Supreme Court’s hearing of the case for it to progress. Then, the ministers of the highest court must decide if they accept the prosecutors’ suit. Edery and Pietra have already lost one round after a lower court in the province of Santa Fe denied their motion.
If the court ministers decide that the case has merit, they still have to resolve another issue. The Santa Fe Constitution includes articles that prevent a sitting politician from facing charges, except in certain cases. The court will have to rule whether those articles are legal and binding.
Because Traferri’s mandate ends next year, which also means his political shield ends, the court might determine that it doesn’t want to allocate resources to the issue. However, this would also be a good time to review the political protections in the event similar scenarios arise in the future.
A Network Of Malfeasance
Earlier this month, a court accepted evidence that Serjal, once the chief prosecutor of the city of Rosario, was guilty of several crimes. As a result, he faces up to 12 years in prison, a fine of AR$90,000 (US$579) and disqualification from holding public office. Another former prosecutor with whom he worked, Gustavo Ponce Asahad, is also behind bars for his role in the operation.
The court charged Serjal with being an alleged organizer of an illicit association that provided judicial protection to a clandestine gambling network in exchange for bribes. In addition to Serjal and Asahad, a former clerk of the prosecutor’s office, Nelson Ugolini, is also facing prison time for his role.
Serjal was the head of the Rosario prosecutors until August 3, 2020, when he submitted his resignation. That was in response to an investigation by his own subordinates. They accused him of being part of a clandestine gambling network led by Leonardo Peiti, a businessman who Serjal and the others protected.
Peiti spent time in prison, but received parole this past February. This was after he provided information that implicates Traferri, to whom he allegedly gave $250,000 for his election campaign.
Edery and Pietra fought for the impeachment of Trafferi two years ago, taking their case before the Senate. However, lawmakers rejected that request.
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