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2019 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom winner

Driver’s Notebooks Exposed Argentina’s Greatest Corruption Scandal Ever

10 Years and Millions of Cash Bribes in Bags

About the Project

This investigation was published in August 2018 after seven months of secrecy. So far, 73 individuals have been prosecuted (including a former President), 40 have been imprisoned, another 40 already confessed their crimes and are waiting for oral judging and $600 million (US) has been seized.

In January 2018, Diego Cabot, an investigative journalist from La Nación, was contacted and met one of his sources. At that meeting, he was given eight notebooks that have been written by the driver of Roberto Baratta, the Secretary of Energy, an officer of the former Federal Planning Agency that included Energy, Transportation and Infrastructure. The Minister in charge was Julio De Vido, one of the most important officers during the 12 years of the Kirchner administration from 2003 to 2015.

The notebooks contained a detailed record of each one of the routes the driver made for 10 years taking Roberto Baratta and other officers to collect money in bags of cash which were bribes of multiple large companies of Argentina that have been awarded with public contracts.

From the beginning of the investigation, two fundamental decisions were made. First, given the number of state officers and of very important businessmen involved, they decided not to publish anything until they could prove and verify most of the facts. Second key decision: build a dataset from this handwritten notebooks.

The eight notebooks were transcribed to an Excel database and the team began working on each one of the records with all the objective elements that could be verified. The following columns were listed: names and positions, addresses and destination of the routes, data from car plates, name of companies, places for the delivery, personal information of the individuals identified at the moment a bribe was paid, amount of each one of the bribes. During the verification process, they searched and compared the information with official gazette datasets and company records, corporate information, government accounting details, tenders and public contracts.

The team understood that it was the biggest corruption scheme ever revealed in Argentina and on April 10, a formal complaint was filed before justice. There was a commitment between the Federal Prosecutor’s office, the federal court and LA NACION: nobody could know anything about the cause and silence had to be absolute. “If the investigation was leaked, it would have been very dangerous and a risk of death,” said the Prosecutor of the case some months later.

On the early morning of Aug. 1, seven months after Diego Cabot received the evidence, the case was revealed to the public and Justice enforced 17 arrests and 36 search warrants.

Bianca Pallaro accepted the 2019 Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Large Newsroom. (Video by Aiyana Ishmael, ONA19 HBCU Fellow)