Argentina Unions Struggle to Ditch ‘Mafia’ Accusations

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Criticism of a judge’s dismissal of an arrest warrant against one of Argentina’s top union leaders on corruption charges might be forcing some of the country’s most powerful organizations to step up efforts to tackle mounting accusations of “mafia-like” operations.

On October 12, prosecutor Sebastián Scalera issued an arrest warrant against Pablo Moyano, the leader of Argentina’s truck drivers union and vice president of the Independiente soccer team. Moyano was charged with leading an illegal organization that laundered money working alongside Independiente’s “Barra Brava,” the team’s fan-run gang.

The prosecutor is accusing the group of laundering money through reselling tickets and controlling car parking around the soccer stadium, among other activities. He also said $30 million is believed to have passed through the club’s bank account in Liechtenstein, reported Clarín.

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But a few days later, on October 16, judge Luis Silvio Carzoglio, rejected the warrant and a number of requests for searches, saying that there was not enough evidence against Moyano.

For the prosecutor, who said he will appeal the decision, the battle might be lost but the war is not.

Pablo Moyano, who is the son of Hugo Moyano, one of the most powerful union leaders in Argentina, said the accusations are part of a political campaign against him and his family.

Hugo Moyano and other members of his family are also accused of corruption, money laundering, and tax evasion.

InSight Crime Analysis

Regardless of whether Pablo Moyano ends up behind bars, which seems very unlikely given the political stakes involved, the high-profile case, which is the latest in a series of blows against unions in Argentina, might force their leaders to clean their image.

But the question remains, do unions operate like mafias in Argentina? In a highly polarized political environment, it depends on your point of view.

Unions are among the most influential organizations in the South American nation. Their power comes in part from the fact that around 40 percent of the country’s workforce is unionized, according to figures from the International Labour Organization. But perhaps more important is that these organizations manage their members’ health plans, a very lucrative business.

Many of them also have strong links with politicians, as well as soccer associations and clubs, which act as entry points for activities like reselling tickets and buying and selling players, which are often linked to money laundering.

To be sure, in exchange for this kind of power, unions have secured very favorable deals for workers in Argentina. This is particularly true in the case of truck drivers, a union led by Pablo Moyano.

Critics say that this access to funds, people and football in a country with a questionable judicial system gives unions an unquestionable level of power and allows them to operate like mafias.

Mauricio Macri won the presidency in 2015 in part by promising to fight corruption. He largely focused his efforts on politicians from the Kirchner administrations and trade unionists.

Since then, at least four high-level union leaders have been investigated and jailed on corruption charges. Many others are under investigation.

Macri supporters celebrated the arrests as a victory, but critics rightly worry that the administration’s intentions might go beyond simply wanting to rid the country of corruption and could have something to do with him wanting to stop critics.

With unemployment, poverty and annual inflation on the rise, Argentina is facing a gloomy economic future, and unions are a sure block against Macri’s proposed economic reform.

Also, corruption cases are notoriously hard to prosecute in Argentina. The truck drivers’ union is particularly strong in a large country that relies on its national routes to transport most goods, so the likelihood that Pablo Moyano sees the inside of a courtroom is slim at best.

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