A judge in Argentina has charged former president Mauricio Macri with ordering illegal surveillance of relatives of sailors killed in a submarine accident in 2017.
In a 171-page indictment issued Wednesday, Judge Martín Bava wrote that there was enough evidence to bring Mr Macri, 62, to trial, arguing that he was ultimately responsible for spying on relatives of the 44 crew members. those aboard the Navy submarine, the San Juan.
Mr. Bava also banned Mr. Macri from leaving Argentina and ordered that Mr. Macri’s assets worth nearly $1 million be frozen. If convicted, Mr Macri could face up to 10 years in prison.
The indictment is the latest in a long series of prosecutions against former Argentine officials in a justice system deemed by experts to be heavily politicized and underhanded.
It comes weeks after Macri’s coalition performed surprisingly well in the midterm elections.
Macri, who ruled Argentina from 2015 to 2019, has long denied any wrongdoing in this matter. His lawyer, Pablo Lanusse, has vowed to appeal.
The former president has argued that Judge Bava should withdraw from the case, arguing that he is doing what the current government, which is led by rivals, is doing.
“This is a political persecution,” Macri told reporters on Wednesday.
Several former Argentine officials have been charged with criminal charges after they left office. Judges, who play a role akin to that of a US prosecutor, often aggressively prey on politicians who have lost power.
The charges against Mr Macri came less than a week after a string of legal victories for Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a former president who faced numerous corruption cases during Mr Macri’s years in power.
In October, a court dismissed a criminal case against Ms Kirchner who accused her of conspiring with Iran to cover up that country’s suspected involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Macri’s allies made huge gains in the midterm elections last month, which saw the ruling coalition break control of the Senate. That means the coalition no longer has enough seats to pass legislation without needing broad support.
Mr Macri had accused Mr Bava of trying to speed up his charges so that they would take place before the midterm elections on 14 November.
In the indictment, Mr. Bava compared the suspected espionage of the sailors’ relatives to “the darkest periods of our country”, a reference to the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
Many family members have been highly critical of the government’s response after the San Juan disappeared on Nov. 15, 2017, during a routine security patrol off the coast of Patagonia.
According to Mr. Bava, intelligence agents infiltrated family gatherings and participated in protests to gather information about their activities.
Relatives often said they thought something wasn’t right, because officials always seemed to be one step ahead of them and sometimes seemed to know what questions to ask during meetings.
“These people demanded nothing but justice and were not looking for anything but to know what had happened to their loved ones,” Mr Bava wrote. “It is not possible to assume that their demands posed a threat to homeland security, national defense or presidential security.”
Mr Bava has indicted several other former officials in the case, including Gustavo Arribas, who headed the Federal Intelligence Service during Mr Macri’s reign.
“This is not a happy day,” said Valeria Carreras, a lawyer representing a group of relatives. “It’s a day that confirms something we already knew.”
The submarine’s disappearance attracted worldwide attention and sparked a massive search and rescue operation involving teams from 18 countries.
The wreckage of the San Juan was discovered nearly a year to the day of its disappearance, revealing that it had imploded near the ocean floor.