Foto: Diego Kovacic
Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó is one of the country’s most powerful women, especially after Congress approved a reform to the Criminal Procedural Code, which grants more power to prosecutors in criminal investigations.
Harshly criticized by opposition leaders, she was often cited as the reason for opposing the reform, saying it was an effort to concentrate more power in her hands. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who appointed Gils Carbó as the head of prosecutors in 2012, defended her last week, saying she was being harassed by judges who do not want to lose their privileges and is being attacked by big media groups due to her opposition to the merger of Cablevisión and Multicanal.
Gils Carbó welcomed the Herald at her headquarters located in downtown Buenos Aires to discuss the reform and recent moves by judges and prosecutors as a presidential election year is set to begin.
Under the recently-approved Criminal Procedural Code (CPP), prosecutors will start to play a much more important role as they are the ones who will be leading the investigations instead of judges. Why is this shift important?
We’ve been working toward this change since my first day in office. Most provinces and most countries in the region have an adversarial system. In Latin America, Uruguay and Argentina stood alone as the only countries that still followed the inquisitorial system. In Mexico and Brazil, there were at least partial reforms. Now that prosecutors will be conducting the investigations, this implies it will be a more efficient system, in part because prosecutors can take actions that judges cannot, such as defining the strategy of a criminal prosecution.
Why do you say they can’t?
The judge must be objective. The judge cannot hold talks with prosecutors from a neighbouring country to see if they follow certain strategies with a criminal group. This is a disadvantage when investigating complex crimes.
Can the Attorney General’s office make policies to fight crime without overlapping with the Executive?
They are two different things. We also think that the Attorney General’s office has to be involved in preventing crimes. That’s why we created the programme ATAJOS, which promotes the creation of offices in impoverished neighbourhoods in order to facilitate access to justice. Having a part of the population without the access to justice and the rest of the rights is not good for the rest of the society. If the Attorney General’s Office is there, people are not forced to ask criminal gangs for protection, they ask what they need from state authorities. Even the police take on a different role.
While lawmakers were debating the CPP there was particular focus on Article 35 that says if a foreigner is caught red-handed committing a petty crime he or she can waive trial and be deported...
This issue was solved by making it clear that a suspect must agree in order to be deported. We’ll have to keep an eye out how it is implemented.
Yes, but human rights groups have said it still gives a dangerous amount of power to police officers since they are the ones who are determine whether someone has been caught red-handed...
Yes. Only the forces are present at that moment.
During the debate, opposition lawmakers made it clear that while they agreed with prosecutors leading the investigations rather than judges they said they would not vote for the CPP because it would give you more power. How do you respond to that?
It’s totally false. The attorney general is expected to administer the body, creating rules to enhance the work of the prosecutors, creating new lines of criminal investigation. Prosecutors are the ones who conduct investigations. I have no access to judicial cases. My role will not change.
So what are the changes then?
The reform will decentralize the power of judges. They used to have absolute power that allowed them to keep a case under wraps and determine when certain things were done. The big change is that they will have to hold oral hearings, and the media will be able to attend. This will help all of us know what the evidence is that they will consider before making a decision. Prosecutors and judges will have to face public consequences for their decisions.
Opposition lawmakers also said that the general prosecutors — some of whom have to be appointed — could help to shelve cases of corruption against Kirchnerite officials once President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner leaves office. Is that correct?
No. The CPP does not say anything of the sort. And it’s precisely the other way round.
Well, general prosecutors will have to analyze what prosecutors decide in these cases...
Yes. But before the reform a first instance prosecutor was the only one who decided whether to move forward with a case. We’ll have now more tools to fight corruption because a general prosecutor will have to agree to drop charges. The new CPP also makes clear public officials cannot waive trial. Another important thing is that preliminary investigations cannot take longer than a year — or three years for complex cases. If a magistrate postpones a decision, he can be accused of malfeasance. Victims will also play a more prominent role. Before dropping charges, prosecutors will have to listen to the victim’s opinion.
When do you think the new CPP will be enforced?
That’s a political decision. The charter of the Attorney General’s Office must be reformed first.
The PRO and the Renewal Front both submitted bills to reform the CPP, saying that an attorney general should be in office for a set time. Do you agree?
I don’t agree with lifetime positions. I don’t think that’s a bad idea. I think a period has to be established for such important positions, including for Supreme Court justices.
So how long do you think an attorney general should stay in office?
Between six and 10 years, so that it does not coincide with a change in government.
Following the reform of the CPP, a reaction from judges was largely expected but not from prosecutors, who have also started sponsoring complaints against you and your officials and even requesting raids on your headquarters.
There are some judges and prosecutors who don’t like change. The Judiciary loses credibility when its tools are not used for the common good but rather to preserve personal privileges. What they are defending are slices of power and the privileges of a shadier system that is more susceptible to corruption.
Why do you think Carlos Gonella, the head of the Attorney General’s Economic Crime and Money Laundering Unit (Procelac), is facing so many criminal probes?
When I appointed him to the Procelac, I told Gonella that he was going to be the one who would suffer the most severe persecution. I knew it out of my experience as a general prosecutor before the Commercial Appeals Court when I filed complaints against companies that had committed fraud against savers and they were rejected with harsh criticism toward me.
So this is not new?
Absolutely not. I don’t know if Gonella is being persecuted as a result of the changes in the CPP or as a result of his investigations into economic crimes. For instance, those who ruined the country in the 1990s have never been tried in court. Economic crime is something that has always been excluded from judicial investigations.
Do you think there are obstacles to investigate the complaint filed days ago by the AFIP tax bureau against HSBC for money laundering?
These cases usually take a long time in court. For instance, the Centre for the Investigation and Prevention of Economic Crimes (CIPCE), carried out a survey that showed that it normally takes 14 years to investigate economic fraud. Regarding HSBC, Gonella told the prosecutor in charge of the case that he was available to help. He has yet to receive a response.
Then there’s the case of prosecutor Edgardo Troncoso, who has filed a complaint alleging espionage, and federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán considered there were grounds to move forward with the probe...
I created a gender programme at the Attorney General’s Office and most prosecutors started to follow its guidelines. But a judge filed a complaint against Troncoso for misogynist practices and for his failure to investigate police officers who repeatedly raped two girls, aged 12 and 14. Troncoso dropped the charges, saying that the purpose of criminal law was not to solve social problems. There were other cases of gender violence that he dismissed by saying that they were family issues. As a defensive manoeuvre, he filed a complaint against the head of the Attorney General’s Gender Unit, accusing her of spying on him when in fact she was carrying out an audit. Then an allied federal prosecutor accepted the case and the country’s most important newspapers reported that my headquarters had been raided but that was not the case. We provided all the information that had been requested.
Troncoso was about to be impeached. Will the impeachment be postponed until this complaint is aired in court?
His case is being processed.
You are the first woman to be appointed Attorney General. Do you think there is a glass ceiling for women in the judiciary?
Well, most women get as far as court secretary but not to higher posts. At least in criminal courts, most of the top positions are filled by men.
Why do you think that is?
Within the judiciary the women who get to the highest positions generally do not have children. In the competition to see who has more diplomas, men usually win because they do not have to stay at home to take care of their children. That’s why we modified the rules so the results of oral and written tests are more important than the number of diplomas. Diplomas have nothing to do with being efficient.
Did your gender affect your career?
I have three children and I only started my postgraduate courses when I was 50 and they were grown.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said last week that you have been a target because of your opposition to the merger of Cablevisión and Multicanal. Do you agree with her?
Yes, when I signed that resolution I knew big media would not like my decision. Media usually hide the good things we are doing and demonize us. They do not only target me but also my family. It’s not just due to the Cablevisión issue but also because I dealt with corporate conflicts within Papel Prensa newsprint manufacturer. Newspapers are used to judicial officials seeking endorsements. But they can write 10,000 front pages about me and I will never change my mind.
There is also an ongoing investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed in the sale of Papel Prensa during the last dictatorship. Why do you think the case is not moving forward?
There is a prosecutor involved in the case. The Attorney General’s Unit for Crimes against Humanity has also filed a request before the judge to summon a group of people to be questioned as suspects. We are waiting for some kind of resolution. Society as a whole wants to know if crimes against humanity were committed in the sale of Papel Prensa with the subsequent goal of hiding dictatorship-era crimes.
Some weeks ago, the Supreme Court said it’s going to deliver some guidelines regarding house arrest for repressors as soon as the Attorney General’s office issues a resolution regarding a particular case. Do you think this is the right moment to evaluate this?
I don’t know. We have already issued that resolution. But I think courts have to analyze every case. After more than 30 years of impunity and with a real risk of escape, these cases raise an important social interest. As long as repressors are getting older, their arrest conditions can be examined. But what is not acceptable is that low-income people go to jail and those who have influence don’t.
Do you think the media played a role in contributing to the failed impeachment trial of prosecutor José María Campagnoli?
Yes, they did. Campagnoli made a serious mistake, which was criticized by a council of prosecutors — mostly appointed by former Attorney General Righi. They said his error was so serious that he had to be impeached. An impeachment tribunal — which only had one prosecutor as a member — understood that he had to be suspended and he filed several appeals. Twelve judges rejected them. Pressure was put on the impeachment tribunal, which led to the resignation of one of the jurors who was having health problems. The daughter of one of the prosecutors suffered an exposure protest. Campagnoli had inserted himself inappropriately into a case but many newspapers devoted their front pages to this. The evidence he had collected is now in the hands of the prosecutor investigating the case and has not modified the investigation so far.
That evidence is also being used in the US by lawyers representing vulture funds who have brought lawsuits against the country.
That’s what newspapers say. We don’t know if it’s true.
What do you think about having Campagnoli as a prosecutor?
I would have liked the impeachment tribunal to reach a verdict.
Some days ago, it was said that you met Campagnoli in order to tone down the dispute. Is that true?
There was a meeting. Campagnoli is a prosecutor and we have to work together.
When you created Legitimate Justice, one of the main goals of the association was to say that those who worked in the judiciary had to be independent from economic power but these days judges and prosecutors are making a point of reminding you that it’s just as important to be independent from political power...
It was always obvious that judicial workers had to be independent from political power. But what was not clear was the fact that magistrates had to be independent from economic groups as well. As an expert in economic crimes, I think it’s obvious that some in the courts are eager to protect privileges inside the courtroom. Alleging neutrality all they end up doing is protecting the interests of the most powerful.
A part of the judicial reform package sponsored by the Kirchnerite administration was quashed by the Supreme Court last year. Do you think it’s important to once again debate the direct election of those who seek a seat at the Magistrates Council?
That would be important. Popular participation within the judiciary can be beneficial. I agreed with the direct election of councillors, which sought to replace the too-frequent attitude of judges who protect their own interests. They sometimes want to prevent other judges from being disturbed or investigated. Some judges are corrupt, but others are simply conservative and they end up being functional to practices that negatively affect the Judiciary.
Do you think judges should make their political views clear?
No. I’m traditional when it comes to that. I don’t think your political views should meddle in your job. You have to avoid these influences. It is funny because I have always been accused of being a Kirchnerite when there isn’t a single case that shows that to be true.