A judge in Argentina has been charged with running a corruption network that included lawyers and a slain customs official, in a case that illustrates a pattern of judges accused of orchestrating bribery schemes.
Argentina’s Public Prosecutor’s Office in Mendoza has indicted federal judge Walter Bento on charges of illicit association, collecting bribes, illegal enrichment and money laundering, according to a May 5 news release.
At least six people charged with crimes that include contraband, drug trafficking and falsifying documents, are also accused of paying bribes of up to $200,000 to the judge’s network for their release.
Prosecutors say Bento was in charge of the network, which included three lawyers and a former customs officer, Diego Aliaga, who was kidnapped and killed by unknown assailants in July 2020. Aliaga allegedly served as an intermediary, meeting with the lawyers and providing them with instructions from the judge, according to Clarín. A total of 16 people, including Bento, have been charged in the bribery scheme.
Bento's lawyer told Clarín that the charges against his client are the result of "an enemy prosecutor." If convicted, Bento faces a sentence of five to 41 years in prison.
SEE ALSO: Argentina News and Profile
This is not the only case of Argentina's federal judges being accused of leading bribery schemes. In 2015, Raúl Reynoso, a federal judge in the northern border city of Orán, was accused of bribery and of favoring the small and large drug traffickers operating on the border between Argentina and Bolivia. Judge Reynoso, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison, had been earlier celebrated for his work countering narcotics trafficking.
Likewise, the federal judge in Corrientes, Carlos Soto Dávila, was charged with being a member of a smuggling network that was responsible for transporting massive amounts of marijuana produced in Paraguay to the Argentine border city of Itatí in the Corrientes province.
Soto Dávila, prosecutors said, worked with two of his secretaries and five lawyers representing people on drug trafficking charges to protect the smuggling network. Together, they negotiated delays in investigations or secured reduced sentences in exchange for payments, prosecutors said.
InSight Crime Analysis
The corruption cases in Argentina's federal judicial system are not a recent phenomenon. For years, the country’s political elites, both local and national, have enlisted allies in the judiciary to try to skirt justice.
Argentina's current vice president and former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has been accused of corruption on several occasions, and judges in the cases involving her also face investigations.
SEE ALSO: All About Elites and Crime
In Argentina's federal system, judges are responsible for the investigation of crimes such as drug trafficking and graft – cases that often intersect with the interests of politicians and organized crime groups.
Cases like that of Judge Soto Dávila, who is accused of protecting the marijuana smuggling network that included politicians and officials in Itatí, illustrate this dynamic. It may also be that judges are placed in positions of power to benefit the same elites, a situation seen on the national level.
Reports of corruption and impunity within Argentina's executive and judiciary branches have tarnished public opinion of the judicial system. In 2020, Argentina ranked 78 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, down 12 spots from 2019. Analysts explained that the drop could be attributed to constant efforts, by elites and criminal actors, to bypass the judiciary system and rig cases.