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Argentine Environmentalist Denounces Continued and Persistent Persecution after Recent Innocence Ruling on Criminal Investigation Against Her
September 4 2015 – Buenos Aires – Just weeks after an innocence ruling in her favor dismissing accusations of misappropriation of public funds while she served as Argentina’s highest environmental authority during 2006-2008, environmentalist and human rights advocate Romina Picolotti, presented in Argentine Federal Tribunals, a full rejection of all remaining charges brought against her dating to 2007, following a prolonged 8-year investigation which never has been able to produce any evidence to sustain accusations leveled at her anonymously and by the incumbent government’s political opposition.
The attack on Picolotti dates to July of 2007, when an Argentine paper pulp mill called Papel Prensa (belonging to the mega media Clarin Group) was on the chopping block due to contamination. Picolotti, who was acting as Argentina’s Environment Secretary at the time, was trying to shut the mill down for pollution. Papel Prensa prints upwards of 90% of all printed matter in the country. The Clarin media group owns a vast majority of press outlets, including television channels, printed newspapers, magazines and radio stations. In July of 2007, Clarin, Argentina’s largest circulating daily newspaper, ran a story against Picolotti, alleging that she had miss-spent millions of public funds. Some time later, an anonymous envelop handed to an investigator of the case added new accusations, including illegally utilizing public monies for frivolous personal expenditures including the likes of dining at Hooters, drinking expensive champagne, buying aspirin and Kleenex, washing her car in Buenos Aires city, and eating ham and cheese sandwiches on the public budget. Picolotti has been under investigation for these and other alleged expenditures for nearly 8 years, with no formal accusations ever brought to trial against her. A few weeks ago, the investigator finished up his investigation and the judge assigned to the case decided to rule her innocent of the original charges.
While the court notified Picolotti by normal procedure of the innocence ruling, about the same time, the media published a different story, indicating that the court had decided to bring to trial part of the investigation against Picolotti, specifically for petty cash expenses. The court however, did not notify her of this decision, and instead, quietly placed the decision on a court website. Not knowing that the ruling was online, and never having received a notification from the Court, Picolotti’s defense team was not able to appeal the decision before the six days allotted for appeals.
“This is a clear violation of the judicial process”, argues Picolotti’s defense. “In fact”, says Picolotti, “the judicial system has repeatedly violated my right to a fair defense throughout these 8 years of investigation. This is not the first time the court has failed to inform me or my defense about key decisions. Another time the court arbitrarily suspended my lawyer just days before another appeal date, and tried to impose a court-appointed lawyer on me. They never notified me of that either, … I simply got a call from an unknown person indicating that they were taking over as my lawyer and that they had my appeal ready. When I rejected the appointment and asked to see the appeal they had prepared, I was told that I had no choice in the matter, that the new lawyer was in communication with the judge, and that the new defense would not show me the appeal or share the legal strategy until after it was presented!”
The supposed receipts that the investigator says are unauthorized, are not hers, says Picolotti. “We have not even been able to see them as each time my lawyers present themselves at the tribunal the court has some excuse for not sharing the receipts with the defense”. The only receipts she has been able to see are those that recently several national media outlets, including Clarin, have published. It is not known how media sources were able to obtain receipts from the Court as the evidence is supposed to be secret—someone has clearly illegally leaked the information. Some of these receipts have other people’s names on them, some have no signature or reference at all, and the ones that are signed with Picolotti’s name, are not in her hand writing, argues the defense. Picolotti says “those receipts are bogus … and there is nothing on them that links me to them. I don’t drink alcohol, I never eat ham and cheese sandwiches, I never washed my car in Buenos Aires (I never drove my car to work and I lived far from the city), and I have never eaten at Hooters. Further, in some cases, these receipts presume I was in two different cities at the same time … it’s crazy! And finally, the signature on the receipts that ran in the paper is simply not mine!” The Court refused a calligraphy test by a handwriting expert to determine a signature match.
Picolotti has presented several requests to throw the investigation out, grounded on a detailed list of procedural violations of the investigative process. “The violations are extensive, reiterative and merit a full rejection by the Court. It’s incomprehensible that the Court has decided to move this investigation to trial—and what’s even crazier”, says Picolotti, “is that the papers are saying that we’ve been assigned a federal circuit court for a trial, and yet I have not even been notified of this decision or of these charges … we don’t even know what they are!”
When Romina Picolotti was Environment Secretary of Argentina, she transformed the Environmental Secretariat. Before her tenure, Argentina’s equivalent of the US EPA, barely carried out any environmental compliance or enforcement work at all. They didn’t even have vehicles and would go to carry out administrative procedures by taxi! Under Picolotti, the Environment Secretariat carried out nearly 9,000 acts of environmental compliance and enforcement in under three years, fined hundreds of companies for pollution, and closed high profile polluters to set an example, including the likes of Shell, Danone, Firestone, Petrobras and others. She also strongly pushed for key new environmental laws in Argentina, including the Forestry Law, the Glacier Protection Law and Environmental Insurance for polluting industries.
When Picolotti began to engage with the mining sector to attempt to reign in mining companies due to contamination, he problems began, as she began to receive death threats against her, her staff and her family. It was also at that time that the accusations against here were filed. Romina Picolotti left her post as Environment Secretary of Argentina, following the President’s veto of a glacier protection law, in response to a request by the mining sector as it would make several multi-billion dollar mining projects near glaciers, illegal. She now works on reverting climate change and phasing out short life climate pollutants, as well as continuing her human rights advocacy work.
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