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Argentina Drug Investigation Inches Closer to Governing Party Mayor

A series of police raids in a strategically located town in Argentina seeking evidence of ties between drug traffickers and officials from the governing party shows the country’s judiciary could be growing in independence, but this new autonomy could face resistance.

Argentine Federal Police on May 8 executed search warrants on the homes and offices of top municipal officials of the city of Paraná, the capital of the northeastern province of Entre Ríos, a key corridor for drugs entering Argentina from Paraguay.

According to local media accounts, the raids were seeking evidence of drug trafficking-related corruption on the part of local officials, including Mayor Sergio Varisco, who belongs to Argentina President Mauricio Macri’s political party, known as Cambiemos.

In particular, authorities seem to be zeroing in on Varisco’s connection to Daniel “Tavi” Celis, a local businessman currently imprisoned on assault charges whom authorities accuse of involvment in large-scale drug trafficking.

A local journalist had reportedly alleged links between the local government and drug trafficking groups in 2015, when Varisco became mayor of Paraná. In 2016, after being jailed for the assault, Celis published a message on Facebook describing himself as a “political prisoner” and threatening to tell “the whole truth about how [Varisco] came to be mayor of the city.”

The investigation deepened in May 2017, when authorities intercepted a drug-laden airplane and arrested two men close to Celis, including his brother, Miguel Ángel “Titi” Celis. In a search of Miguel Ángel’s home, authorities reportedly found a piece of paper with the names of Varisco and other officials listed next to different amounts of money.

Over the next several months, secretly recorded conversations emerged suggesting Celis had supported Varisco’s 2015 bid for the mayorship and had contributed 100,000 Argentine pesos (roughly $4,400) to his campaign.

The mayor and other officials who are being investigated have denied any wrongdoing. Varisco even seemed to praise the probe into his alleged criminal ties, saying that it shows that “there is an independent judicial branch and that there is no interference from the political branch.”

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