BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — An Argentine lawmaker who was a top official in former President Cristina Fernandez’s government has turned himself in to authorities after the lower house of Congress voted Wednesday to remove his immunity from being detained.
Local television stations broadcast images of border police entering the home of Julio de Vido to arrest him, but he apparently wasn’t in at the time and later turned himself in to a Buenos Aires federal court. The 176-0 vote opened him to being held under preventive arrest on corruption charges. De Vido was later transferred to a federal prison in the outskirts of the Argentine capital.
The former planning minister is being investigated on suspicion of having the government overpay more than $7 billion for liquefied gas. He’s also being probed for possible embezzlement in another case involving the coal mine Rio Turbio. He denies any wrongdoing.
De Vido’s attorney called his client’s detention a “violation of the rule of law.”
“This is a disaster,” said Maximiliano Rusconi.
De Vido was one of the most powerful members of the Cabinet of Fernandez during her 2007-2015 administration as well as the 2003-2007 government of Fernandez’s husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.
Since leaving office, Fernandez has been hit by a string of corruption scandals and was indicted last year. She has acknowledged that some corruption took place during her government but she denies any wrongdoing and dismisses allegations against her as politically motivated. Fernandez won a Senate seat during Sunday’s midterm legislative elections, which grants her immunity from arrest or search warrants. Analysts say her second place in the elections dimmed her chances of a presidential run in 2019.
Most lawmakers belonging to De Vido’s Front for Victory party were absent from Wednesday’s vote, arguing it was part of a political maneuver orchestrated by President Mauricio Macri against members of the party founded by the Kirchners.
De Vido became close to the presidential couple during the 1990s, when Kirchner was governor of the southern province of Santa Cruz. De Vido was later in charge of handling funds for lucrative public works contracts and other projects. His critics see him as a symbol of Argentina’s endemic corruption.
“That De Vido, the minister of corruption, is in jail is an important step toward the end of impunity,” Laura Alonso, the head of the Argentine anti-corruption office, wrote on Twitter.
This story has been corrected to show that the immunity is for arrest not for prosecution.