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Press freedom organizations defend Argentine journalists after allegations of involvement with espionage and extortion



Press freedom organizations from Latin America and the United States have come out in defense of Daniel Santoro and three other Argentine journalists after a judge named them in an investigation into alleged extortion and illegal espionage he says was carried out by the fake lawyer Marcelo D'Alessio.

In addition to Santoro, Rolando Graña of program GPS, Eduardo Feinmann of A24, and Rodrigo Alegre of Channel 13, were mentioned in a judicial resolution issued by the federal magistrate of Dolores province, Alejo Ramos Padilla, earlier this month. The alleged criminal activities of D’Alessio, arrested in February, are described in the document.

According to the judge, interviews conducted in December of last year by the four journalists with the former director of the oil company PDVSA Argentina, Gonzalo Brusa Dovat, would be related to a maneuver to force the businessman to testify in the criminal case known as the "corruption notebooks” scandal.

According to the judicial resolution, the interviews would have been coordinated by D'Alessio, who was allegedly acting on behalf of federal prosecutor Carlos Stornelli, principal investigator of the "notebooks" – a scandal in which former president Cristina Kirchner is accused of receiving bribe money.

Ramos Padilla argues that D’Alessio would also have used his connections to the press to obtain illegal intelligence data and to commit other illegal acts, such as the extortion of the businessman Pedro Etchebest, who denounced the false lawyer.

The judge also states in the court document that it is not clear to what extent journalists were aware of D'Alessio's alleged illegal scheme. The judge added that “it is not intended here to question the investigative activity of journalism, but only to highlight the level of coordination among all actors.”

For press freedom organizations, linking the journalists to D'Alessio's case is a judicial attempt to "criminalize interviews and professional secrecy." In their joint statement, the organizations also write that "journalists never can nor should be confused with their sources."

The associations also warn that "the position of the judge [Ramos Padilla] is unprecedented in the Argentine courts" and is contrary to the country's constitution. The magistrate's position can "create self-censorship, limit the discovery of acts of corruption and, consequently, affect freedom of expression," they added.

The joint statement was signed by the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), the Argentine Journalism Forum (Fopea), the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios) of Ecuador, Fundamedios USA, the Press and Freedom of Expression Institute (Iplex) of Costa Rica, the Press and Society Institute (IPYS) of Peru and of Venezuela and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Ginna Morelo, Colombian journalist and editor, and Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, also signed the text.

Since the beginning of the month, Santoro and his colleagues have also received expressions of support from the Argentine press. The National Academy of Journalism of Argentina and the Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities (Adepa) expressed concern regarding the case.

In addition, more than 300 renowned journalists from all over Argentina signed a letter of support for Santoro. For the media professionals who signed the letter, the campaign against the Clarín journalist was perpetrated by Kirchneristas to divert attention from the investigations of the "notebooks."

On Twitter, the hashtag #SantoroEsPeriodismo (Santoro is Journalism) also gathered several demonstrations of support for the journalist, as reported by the Buenos Aires Times.

Link between D'Alessio and Santoro

In the 220-page judicial resolution from Ramos Padilla, Santoro is mentioned as having presented D'Alessio to the prosecutor Stornelli. In a more recent testimony published by the newspaper Perfil, former PDVSA director Brusa Dovat said he met D’Alessio and Santoro in a restaurant, where the false lawyer presented himself as a "personal friend and fellow investigator" of the Clarín journalist.

In a long interview published in Perfil on Sunday, March 17, Santoro admitted he had erred in developing a closer relationship with D'Alessio, but denied having received money, obtained intelligence data or participated in any criminal activity related to the false lawyer. "He used my name without my knowledge or my permission to extort people," Santoro said.

The Clarín journalist remembered meeting D'Alessio in 2016 to talk about drug trafficking, a subject on which the latter had written a book. The journalist pointed out, however, that D'Alessio was one of hundreds of his sources.

Santoro also answered, in the interview, about what he would change in the "Manual of Journalistic Investigation” of the Gabriel García Márquez Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism, written by him, after this experience.

"I would add a chapter on D'Alessio and how to control the source much more rigorously. Prevent them from studying our psychological profile and that they approach us through family and friendship,” he said.

Daniel Santoro received the Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 2004 for his career in journalism. At the time, the prize noted that he had “been fighting against corruption and abuse of power and for higher standards of journalism in Argentina for the past 25 years.” Santoro also received the King of Spain Award in 1995 for his investigation on illegal arms sales during the government of Carlos Menem. The journalist was one of the founders of Fopea, which he presided over between 2002 and 2007.



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