September 5, 2014 7:54 PM
Argentine drug probe zeroes in on Presidential PalaceBy Joel Keep
A Federal judge in Buenos Aires said that raids could be ordered on the seat of government here, in a drug trafficking investigation that could stain a presidency already battling allegations of corruption.
The case threatens to expose links between presidential staff and organized crime figures suspected of importing precursor chemicals for the manufacture of crystal methamphetamine in Mexico and the United States.
Justice Maria Servini de Cubria issued a writ stating that phone calls had been made between the government’s Military Household and members of presidential staff where authorization was given for importing ephedrine, a crucial component in the manufacture of crystal meth, also known as “ice.”
The judge asserted that drug trafficking rings operating in the country were acting with impunity and with the blessing of politicians and security forces.
“If not, they would have been caught by the police (by now),” she told local media.
Justice Servini claims to have evidence of consistent communication between staff at the Sedronar anti-drug trafficking agency, presidential staffers and two men known to be importing narcotic derivatives.
One of the men involved in the alleged calls to presidential staff, Maximo Rito Zacarias, was accused of importing 1,000 kilograms of ephedrine and falsifying customs declarations.
Zacarias’ brother, Miguel, was private secretary to the chief of the country’s Sedronar anti-narcotics agency between 2004 and 2011.
The Sedronar chief in that period, Jose Granero, was indicted last month by the judge for importing components unsed to manufacture narcotics.
Speaking to opposition media stalwart Jorge Lanata of the Clarin Group, Justice Servini said that she had written to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner secretary seeking information.
“We want to know who used those phones,” the judge said.
Argentina has become an increasingly important transit hub for drug gangs in recent years, after importers of precursor chemicals began using the country as an alternative point of trade with Mexican cartels dealing in both cocaine and amphetamine.
The port city of Rosario has become the epicenter of the drug trade, where security forces have struggled to end a bloody turf war between drug gangs that has drawn comparisons with the troubled Colombian city of Medellin.
Cocaine is moved overland from Peru and Bolivia, where it is then smuggled to European markets via staging posts in Brazil and West Africa from Rosario.
Separately, Argentine importers source ephedrine from China and India that is shipped to cartels in Mexico, who use the chemical to make methamphetamine for consumption in the U.S. and Canada.
In May, agents in Buenos Aires were involved in a shootout with a Mexican chemist living in the affluent suburb of Belgrano who had ties to former and current police.
The chemist was later found to be involved in a gang that exported two tons of liquid cocaine to Mexico, which had been mixed with insulating oil and hidden in transformers.
The haul threw light on organized crime connections with Mexican cartels, which are said to have established the networks with the Argentine pharmaceutical industry during the presidency of Fernández’s late husband, Nestor.
Pharmaceutical companies with ties to the Mexican Sinaloa cartel are said to have contributed more than a third of the financing for Fernández‘s 2007 presidential campaign, according to a 2013 report by International Strategy and Assessment Center Fellow Douglas Farah.
In 2008, the administration came under scrutiny after three businessmen with links to the Mexican drug trade were abducted and shot in the capital.
One of the men killed, Sebastian Forza, was the owner of a prescription drug distributor that supplied $200,000 to Fernández‘s presidential campaign in 2007.
Forza was identified in related court proceedings as a business partner providing ephedrine to the Sinaloa cartel.
Fernández made no immediate comment on the investigation, but her chief of cabinet said the administration intended on cooperating with the probe.
“We will respond to her request (for information),” Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich told reporters, referring to Justice Servini.
The ruling party is finding itself under renewed pressure regarding corruption, with Vice President Amado Boudou set to answer allegations of misconduct on an unrelated case.