Ex-Argentine official Jose Lopez in the former government of President Cristina Fernandez was arrested on Tuesday as he allegedly tried to hide millions in dollars and other currencies at an Argentine monastery.
Nuns called police after seeing a man throwing plastic bags onto the property
The authorities were notified when a neighbor of the monastery called after seeing a man throwing bags onto the property near Buenos Aires early Tuesday. Officers arrived and arrested a man who turned out to be former Public Works Secretary Jose Lopez. The police initially detained him for illegal possession of a .22 caliber rifle.
They then discovered wads of cash as well as watches in more than 160 packages inside the bags. Other money had been taken to the monastery kitchen and some was found in the trunk of a car.
Security Minister Cristian Ritondo of Buenos Aires Province told a news conference that Lopez was “in a state of shock” when he was arrested and alleged that he tried to bribe police.
“He later told the nuns that police had tried to steal the money that he was trying to donate,” Ritondo said. “There are dollars, yen, euros and a currency from Qatar … It’s a lot of money.”
Dario Kubar, the area’s mayor, reported that police had found more than $7 million at the monastery that is home to nuns devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima.
“It’s almost out of a movie,” said Marcos Pena, President Mauricio Macri’s Cabinet chief. “We’re shocked because it’s not a minor official … He led public works, which were so questioned, where we saw so much daily corruption.”
Locals in a bus watching the arrests and other police activities
The new Macri administration has promised to root out corruption that has plagued Argentina. Analysts say that has emboldened judges who are now freer to pursue sensitive cases against the former leader and her friends without fear of retribution. Fernandez has been included in investigations involving allegations of money laundering and possible illegal enrichment.
Lazaro Baez, a once untouchable friend of Fernandez and her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, was arrested earlier this year. The millionaire businessman, who got public works contracts under both presidents, is accused of embezzling and laundering about $5 million. Prosecutors began looking into Baez after a 2013 journalistic investigation named him as Kirchner’s figurehead in an elaborate scheme.
Prosecutors are also looking into the financial transactions at several hotels owned by the Kirchner family.