WASHINGTON, D.C. – US Federal Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach in Nevada authorized Argentina journalist Jorge Lanata’s motion to intervene in the case NML vs. Argentina and granted Lanata's lawyers access to the sealed information.
"Our lawyers will review this information in the next few days, and will then ask Judge Ferenbach to unseal any evidence that might arise about Lázaro Báez, the Kirchner family, and the scheme through which they stole and laundered more than 60 million dollars," said the Center for Investigatve Journalism in the Americas (CIJA).
Magistrate Judge Ferenbach opened the hearing with an explanation of protective orders. He stated that typically, when a party seeks a protective order, and the other side does not oppose it, the Court will simply grant it. However, by filing a document with the Court under seal, the parties always risk that document becoming part of the public record. While the parties are adequately represented, “The People” are rarely represented in Court.
At one point, Ferenbach cited James Madison in The Federalist Papers. “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”
Lanata’s lawyers, Marc J. Randazza and his associate Theresa M. Haar, will now have the opportunity to review the documents that are currently under seal by the protective order. Once Randazza and Haar have seen the papers, they must file a brief under-seal to justify why the information should be made public, though Randazza hopes that they will be able to come to an agreement before that.
"The lawyers will sit down, look at the documents together, and then see if they can agree on what should be kept private," Randazza believes.
“We went to Nevada to ask the Judge to take into account that the general public has the right to know about what’s happening there," said Lanata. "The Judge was very favorable towards our position since it will give the opportunity to the general public to have a voice in the case. I’m sure that in a couple of months we will be able to tell the people who are behind those companies."
CIJA’s President Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger said that the Ferenbach decision is a small but important victory in the fight against corruption. “In countries like Argentina, public officials are generally able to manipulate the courts, harass the Judges, and persecute the press. But in the United States the judicial system is independent from any power. If our lawyers find out in Nevada any type of information that might provide useful evidence to dismantle Lázaro Báez’s and the Kirchner’s family money laundering schemes, we will make sure that information goes public,” Vázquez-Ger promised.
In August, Ferenbach issued a ruling to allow Argentina creditor NML uncover information about a network of 123 companies based in Nevada that Argentine prosecutors allege are affiliated with Argentine construction baron Lazaro Báez, who built a business empire after Nestor Kirchner was elected president in 2003.
NML claims in court filings that assets held by the Nevada companies may have been stolen from the Argentine government and if so, NML is seeking to have them seized to settle its $1.7 billion legal claim against Argentina.
Last year, a popular Argentina news show aired videotaped statements by alleged associates of Báez describing a scheme to take bags of cash out of Argentina and launder about $65 million through a network of obscure companies in tax havens around the world.
The Argentina investigation’s lead prosecutor found that Baez transferred at least $65 million to a network of shell companies in Nevada, NML said. The company suspects that the 123 corporations from which it’s seeking information are the same as those referred to in that report because the entities have documents tying them to a Panamanian law firm known for incorporating shell companies, NML said in court documents.
“There is no doubt that the 123 companies are shell corporations,” Ferenbach said in the August order. “Similarly, there is no doubt that shell corporations are routinely formed to commit fraud.”
"In addition to experiencing a depression and sovereign-default crisis, Argentina has been plagued by allegations of political corruption," wrote Ferenbach. "Former President Néstor Kirchner and his wife, current President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, allegedly awarded lucrative state-controlled projects to various political insiders. The business dealings of two Kirchner insiders are relevant here: Lázaro Báez and Cristobal López. In August of 2014, NML demonstrated reasonable suspicion to believe that Báez laundered embezzled state funds through Nevada."
NML v Argentina - Nevada Order Granting Motion to Intervene 12 Dec 2014
NML v Argentina - Nevada - NML Response to Unseal Motion -- 12 Dec 2014 by Latin American Herald Tribune
NML v Argentina - Nevada - Opposition to Motion to Unseal Amunategui Deposition - 11 Dec 2014 by Latin American Herald Tribune
NML v Argentina - Nevada Lanata Motion to Unseal -- 5 December 2014 by Latin American Herald Tribune
NML v Argentina - NML Nevada Motion to Compel Testimony - 4 December 2014 by Latin American Herald Tribune
NML v Argentina Kirchner Shell Corporations in Nevada 11 August 2014 by Latin American Herald Tribune