The Argentine government held meetings that violated a presidential decree by failing to register that it received a Techint Group executive at the Casa Rosada, which after three meetings and a tender became the supplier of the pipes for the President Néstor Kirchner gas pipeline, such as a CNN investigation reveals.
Tenaris Siat S.A. was the only company to make an offer and, with it, win the tender of more than US$ 500 million in May 2022. Techint’s institutional director, David Uriburu, met four times with the then chief and deputy chief of staff, Juan Manzur and Jorge Neme, according to the list of income to the Casa Rosada that CNN accessed. Three of those meetings occurred in the three months prior to the launch of the tender, while the fourth meeting was six days after the award in favor of the same company.
The Single Registry of Interest Management Hearings, a public database, does not contain these meetings, despite the fact that it is mandatory to report them and non-compliance by officials of the Executive Branch contemplates criminal sanctions.
Neme confirmed the existence of the meetings and admitted the mistake of not recording them. The official told CNN the talks were about exporting steel and “we may have talked about the pipeline.”
Techint declined to comment on CNN’s inquiry. Manzur did not respond to messages or calls on this subject.
“No one questions the strategic nature of the work that this gas pipeline means for national interests. Now, that does not justify an act of corruption or a conflict of interest that may have occurred here,” said Graciela Ocaña, a deputy from the opposition coalition Together for Change, when questioning the proximity of the unregistered meetings to the opening of the tender. of the pipes
For his part, Neme rejected the idea of a possible fact of corruption or conflict of interest behind the breach of the presidential decree and the lack of registration of the meetings.
The director of Poder Ciudadano, the Argentine chapter of Transparency International, Pablo Secchi, pointed out that “there is no illegality in that they meet but there is a breach of the registry that requires that meetings of the Executive Branch and anyone who requests it be publicized.” “Precisely the publication of this agenda serves to control conflicts of interest,” he concluded.
Although this CNN investigation focused on the entries of representatives of a specific company in the Casa Rosada, it has not yet been determined if the same behavior of lack of registration was repeated with other businessmen or officials.
Uriburu’s meetings with Manzur and Neme on October 4, 2021, December 15, 2021, January 11, 2022, and May 10, 2022 are documented in the list of admissions to the Casa Rosada, obtained by CNN through a request for access to public information, but they do not appear in the Single Registry of Interest Management Hearings.
Decree 1172/2003 obliges officials of the Executive Power to register their hearings: with whom, where, when, interest and reason.
The constitutional lawyer Christian Cao says that the objective of this regulation is to “provide transparency”.
The government explains that whoever fails to comply “commits a serious offense”, whose sanction, Cao identifies, is provided for in the Penal Code under the figure of “violation of the duties of a public official”.
Neme admitted that ultimate responsibility rests with him, though he said a “secretary did not complete the record.” He added that with Uriburu he discussed the quota for steel exports to the United States, something that was finally approved nine months after his last meeting at the Casa Rosada. In addition, he recalled: “It may be that we have also talked about the gas pipeline,” without providing details.
“It is a work of national interest and the deputy chief of staff is supposed to be able to talk about the gas pipeline,” he said.
The official assured that all the meetings were requested by Techint.
Ocaña considers that the unregistered meetings that “coincide with key moments of the tender” constitute a matter that “deserves to be investigated by the Justice.”
The deputy had already filed a legal complaint about an alleged addressing of this tender in June last year when the data on the unregistered meetings was not yet known. This file was archived in 10 days.
Ocaña’s complaint arose after a WhatsApp message that the Ministry of Productive Development disseminated among journalists, in which she accused the government sector in charge of allegedly directing the tender: “They set the conditions to give her the construction of the pipes of the gas pipeline to Techint” said the text without the signature of any official in particular. This led to the resignation of the minister of that area, Matías Kulfas.
The state company Integración Energética Argentina (IEASA),