Argentina tries ex-president on bribery charges

Associated Press Modified: August 14, 2012 at 2:53 pm •  Published: August 14, 2012

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine prosecutors put a former president on trial for bribery on Tuesday, accusing Fernando de la Rua of bribing senators for votes.

A three-judge panel already has ruled that $5 million was paid to a group of senators in exchange for their votes to remove worker protections in the year 2000, when the International Monetary Fund was making workforce flexibility a requirement for extending loans to Argentina. The law, which enabled companies to fire workers without cause or severance pay, was overturned in 2004.

Now prosecutors must prove the payments were ordered by De la Rua, who served from 1999 to December 2001, when the IMF refused to extend more loans and the economy collapsed. Deadly riots followed, forcing de la Rua to flee by helicopter from the rooftop of the presidential palace.

De la Rua's co-defendants include his liaison to Congress, former parliament secretary Mario Pontaquarto, who confessed a decade ago to delivering the money on the orders of De la Rua himself.

Pontaquarto said he picked up the $5 million from Argentina's Intelligence Service, giving $4 million to one senator, Emilio Cantarero, and $1 million to another, Jose Genoud. Cantarero now suffers from Alzheimer's disease and Genoud committed suicide, but Pontaquarto said he helped prosecutors compile solid evidence.

"I'm looking for the truth to put an end to all of this," Pontaquarto said as he entered the courtroom Tuesday, adding that he's not afraid to go to prison.

"If there's no conviction for me, who turned myself in, no one will be convicted and impunity will result," he said. "Society has condemned this, and what I want is for the justice system to condemn it as well. I'm not interested in De la Rua's lies. This was the most serious act of institutional corruption since the return of democracy" in 1983, after seven years of dictatorship.

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