BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's vice president was ordered Friday to answer allegations that he abused his power to gain control of the company that prints the nation's currency.
Federal Judge Ariel Lijo ruled there is enough evidence to merit formally questioning Amado Boudou about his role in the case, in which secret partners and shell companies allegedly benefited from tax exemptions and lucrative government contracts after buying the bankrupt Ciccone Calcografica printing company at a cut-rate price. The printer, renamed the Compania de Valores Sudamericana, also produced campaign material during President Cristina Fernandez's run-up to her 2011 re-election with Boudou.
Boudou is the first sitting Argentine vice president since the nation emerged from military dictatorship in 1983 to be ordered to stand for questioning in criminal court, constitutional experts said Friday.
Boudou dismissed calls by political opponents for his resignation, insisting he is not guilty.
"I swear, I sustain and I will demonstrate that I did not commit acts of corruption," he said.
"I'm very calm," Boudou added in one of several interviews with local radio programs after the judge's resolution was announced. "This is an important step because I'm going to prove my innocence."
After Boudou is questioned next month, the judge could either dismiss the case or proceed with formal criminal charges that could carry up to six years in prison and a lifetime ban from elective office.
A federal prosecutor told the judge that evidence supports allegations of influence trafficking against Boudou, who allegedly used his power as economy minister and then vice president to smooth the printing company's exit from bankruptcy.
Members of the Ciccone family said Boudou was personally involved in negotiations that persuaded them to sell to The Old Fund. Boudou denied participating in the meetings or knowing other key participants, but witness testimony and documents presented to the judge suggested his involvement.
Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich dismissed the probe as politically motivated, noting that the judge scheduled the hearing for July 15. The date coincides with a possible trip by Fernandez to an economic conference in Brazil when Boudou would be named acting president in her absence. Capitanich, however, said the government respects the authority of the court and praised the vice president's willingness to cooperate.
The judge also ordered testimony from Boudou's longtime friend and business partner Jose Maria Nunez Carmona; businessman Alejandro Vandenbroele, who allegedly acted as Boudou's secret proxy; a top tax agency official, Rafael Resnick Brenner; and two of the printing company's executives, co-founder Nicolas Ciccone and his son-in-law Guillermo Reinwick.
The judge wrote that evidence suggests that Boudou and Nunez Carmona acquired the bankrupt company, which runs Argentina's only currency printing factory, through The Old Fund, whose sole known employee was Vandenbroele. The judge also said Boudou's intervention appeared to influence the tax agency's decision to grant the company an illegal exemption, effectively erasing its debts by enabling it to pay back taxes at below-market interest rates.
The federal probe followed investigative reports by La Nacion, Clarin, and other Argentine newspapers. The scandal broke when Vandenbroele's ex-wife went public with allegations that her life was in danger because she knew he had secretly worked for Boudou.
"If he had just a bit of shame, Boudou should resign," said Graciela Ocana, a Buenos Aires lawmaker with the upstart Public Confidence party. "With this request to interrogate Boudou, President Cristina (Fernandez de) Kirchner should demand that he take leave or resign — if not, one would think that this Ciccone business went beyond only Boudou."
Associated Press Writer Michael Warren contributed to this report.