Could Argentina See Another ‘Alberto Nisman’ Scandal?

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Criminals have attacked a prosecutor investigating corrupt police networks, pointing to a growing boldness by Argentina’s criminal actors but also evidence that a new government crackdown on organized crime could be having an impact.

Fernando Cartasegna, a Buenos Aires prosecutor, was assaulted in his office, tied to a chair and beaten by a single attacker during the afternoon of May 3, reported Clarín. Before leaving, his attacker wrote the word “Nisman” in sugar on the floor.

The message was a reference to Alberto Nisman, who was found dead in January 2015 after working on the case of the 1994 Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina — AMIA) bombing that had targeted the Jewish community in Argentina’s capital. He was found shot dead in his home a day before he was to testify in congress and shortly after having publicly accused former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of covering up elements of the attack. The prosecutor’s death sparked widespread controversy and an investigation into the circumstances of his death is ongoing.

Cartasegna is currently investigating allegedly corrupt police officers and lawyers from the Buenos Aires province accused of tampering with traffic accident compensations. The investigation is part of a much broader probe into police corruption in Buenos Aires, where officers have been implicated in other criminal activities including prostitution, drug trafficking and extortion.

This isn’t the first attack on Cartasegna — just days before he was ambushed in his office, two men and a woman dressed in decommissioned police uniforms approached the prosecutor outside the city courtrooms and allegedly threatened to kill him if he kept digging into the police extortion scheme. His aggressors struck Cartasegna in the head with an old police bludgeon, according to Clarín. Placards of his photo and that of Nisman were left on the judiciary building with the words “Meet the new Nisman.”


17-05-09-Argentina-Nisman Pamphlet

A pamphlet threatening Cartasegna (bottom) with Nisman’s fate, Courtesy of Clarín

InSight Crime Analysis

The attacks against Cartasegna should be viewed in the context of intensive efforts by the authorities to reform the Buenos Aires police and rid it of corruption. In 2016, 200 people from the police were jailed on corruption charges, and 3,300 more were dismissed.

That both aggressions took place during the daytime — one in his office and the other in front of the courtrooms — is evidence of a growing trend of increased confidence on the part of criminal actors. These networks now appear bold enough to openly target judiciary officials, in plain light of day. In October last year a federal tribunal in Buenos Aires that had dealt with major drug trafficking cases was set on fire, and a threatening message was left, this time addressed to the governor of the province.

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Yet these attacks on the judiciary should also be seen as evidence that changes in policies targeting organized crime could be hitting their mark and disturbing, although not yet dismantling, some criminal networks.

Since President Mauricio Macri took power, the government has placed an emphasis on tackling drug trafficking and corruption. Although, as InSight Crime has previously noted, some measures aiming at militarizing this struggle are debatable, Macri’s administration deserves some credit for its focus on eradicting corruption within its law enforcement and political institutions.

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