MONTEVIDEO – The commander of the Uruguayan navy, Adm. Oscar Debali, resigned amid an investigation opened into the alleged diversion of millions of dollars in public money that has already cost four other lower-ranking officers their jobs, sources at the Defense Ministry told Efe on Tuesday.
The sources said Debali submitted his resignation Monday night, apparently in response to the indictment of his nephew, navy Lt. Ernesto Menafra, for embezzlement.
Defense Minister Luis Rosadilla has scheduled a press conference for later Tuesday to disclose “important news” about the case, which he said will signify “a before and an after” in the life of the navy.
The investigation was launched after the minister’s July 20 announcement that four officers, including Uruguay’s naval attache in Brazil, were cashiered after fraud amounting to millions of dollars was discovered within the institution.
The judge handling the case, Graciela Gatti, is investigating the existence of a network of false purchases, the diversion of U.N. funds destined to pay for Uruguayan participation in peacekeeping missions and the channeling of public money into a secret foreign bank account.
The diversion of funds dates to the period 2006-2009 and could total $5 million.
Investigators launched the probe after receiving an anonymous tip about the payment of some $600,000 on a hydraulic crane and a motor-testing bench that were never delivered.
Prosecutors soon discovered that the irregularities were being perpetrated in a systematic manner in the navy for several years.
Gatti also ordered the questioning of officials at about 40 companies that supply the navy.
On Monday it was announced that because of the inquiries made within the institution, Capt. Alvaro Bacque was sent to prison after it was discovered that he appropriated fuel vouchers valued at 7.5 million pesos ($300,000). EFE