A former government official in Argentina will soon head to prison for committing the same crimes he was charged with helping prevent. Patricio Serjal is a former prosecutor who kept illegal gambling alive in the country, instead of preventing it, and could soon share space with some of the same people he locked up.
Two current prosecutors from Argentina’s Agency for Organized Crime and Complex Crimes have requested a sentence of 12 years in prison for the disgraced prosecutor in the city of Rosario. They also want five years for Nelson Ugolini, a former employee who worked in Serjal’s office.
The pair repeated helped a known criminal conduct illegal gambling by offering protection in return for money. It was allegedly all part of a larger plot that another former prosecutor, Gustavo Ponce Asahad, orchestrated.
Criminals Helping Criminals
In February of this year, Serjal walked free after 18 months on house arrest pending the trial. Police had arrested him on charges of passive bribery in August 2020. He also faced charges of breach of duty as a public official, embezzlement, transmission of protected data and failure to prosecute.
With him fell Asahad, who allegedly received between US$4,000 and $5,000 per month in hush money. His client was Leonardo Peiti and his illegal gambling business. The money gave him safe passageto conduct his operations. It ensured that Asahad wouldn’t investigate him and would help steer investigations in other directions.
The prosecutors presented the sentence request Wednesday as the trial against Serjal began. They assert that he is guilty of assisting organized crime, aggravated passive bribery, falsifying public documents, embezzlement and dereliction of duty. They also requested a permanent ban on public service and a fine of ARS90,000 (US$579).
The role of Ugolini was minor. However, he already had a history of illegal activity before he teamed up with Serjal and Asahad. Prosecutors want him in prison for accepting bribes in return for manipulating documents and investigations to protect his cohorts’ actions.
Ugolini had previously worked as a clerk in the penal system in the city of Venado Tuerto. His employment there came to an end in 2010 over a complaint linking him to irregularities in a case involving an illegal vehicle chop shop.
However, five years later, he was back, working at the Rosario Regional Prosecutor’s Office. The pieces came together after the scandal involving Serjal and Asahad broke. The two had apparently sought him out, knowing his propensity for breaking the law.
Senator Plays Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free Card
The prosecutors also summoned a powerful politician, Senator Armando Traferri, to charge him in the case. However, they’re not having any luck getting him to comply. The constitution of the province of Santa Fe, which the senator represents, prohibits the initiation of criminal proceedings against acting legislators.
The only way prosecutors could investigate Traferri, or any other legislator in the province, would be if he renounced his privileges or if the Senate decided to remove him. However, on December 18, 2020, in a split vote, the chamber resolved to uphold his privileges.
The suspicions about Traferri arose from cases of complex crimes in the south of the province, and led to Serjal’s arrest. Despite those individuals acknowledging under oath that Traferri had his hands in the illegal activity, the senator has remained untouchable.
The trial of Serjal and Ugolini is just now getting underway. As such, it could be sometime next year before it concludes. Asahad received a three-year prison sentence for his involvement last year. That may be a possible hint of what might be coming for his two cohorts.
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