Argentina: Ex-Casino Regulator Vindicated in 15-Year Old Theft Charge

Posted on: December 16, 2022, 08:33h. 

Last updated on: December 16, 2022, 10:18h.

The Supreme Court of Justice of the Argentine province of Buenos Aires has set the record straight after 15 years. Gustavo Menéndez, a former casino regulator and current mayor of the city of Merlo, will be given a clean record in relation to a theft from a casino when he was Provincial Director of Casinos in 2007.

Gustavo Menéndez
Gustavo Menéndez at his desk as mayor of the Argentine city of Merlo. The former casino regulator and government official has been cleared of wrongdoing in a 15-year-old case. (Image: Perfil)

The ruling reverses the two-and-a-half year prison sentence and perpetual disqualification from holding public office that Menéndez received. It also cleared Enrique De Luca, the then-administrator of the Casino Central and Casino Del Mar.

The two were targeted and sent to trial over the disappearance of ARS600,000 (US$3,480) from Casino Central in Mar del Plata. They always asserted their innocence, alleging the accusation was a political conspiracy.

Long-Lost Vindication

That trial took place in December 2018. After the verdict, Menéndez, who was president of the Justicialist Party at the time, accused former Buenos Aires Governor María Eugenia Vidal of using her power to direct the trial.

In May of last year, the Criminal Chamber of the city of Bahía Blanca ratified the sentence of the court of Mar del Plata. Even before that confirmation, Menéndez and his defense attorneys presented an appeal for annulment.

The Supreme Court, in a 31-page brief, granted Menéndez’s request to annul the verdict and strike the entry from his record. It determined that there was no evidence to support the original court decision or the claims against Menéndez.

While most of the court justices agreed to the annulment, at least one rejected it. Still, having the majority in favor of the appeal was enough to vindicate Menéndez.

Much has changed in the 10 years it took for the case to go to trial. Vidal faced accusations of manipulating the judicial process.

The case began before Vidal, when Felipe Solá was still governor. Following him was Daniel Scioli, then Vidal. All tried to sway the trial based on their own interests, absent investigatory evidence.

During that time, Menéndez, who at one time aspired to become Argentina’s president, passed through the Institute of Lottery and Casinos of the province of Buenos Aires (IPLyC, for its Spanish acronym). He continued with his career in politics and became mayor of Merlo in 2015, followed by reelection in 2019.

Money Goes Missing

On Nov. 8, 2007, an audit took place at Casino Central and Casino del Mar, which were under the auspices of Menéndez and De Luca at the time.

As the story unfolded at the time, the money was taken out of the company’s treasury in cash and placed in a backpack. It was transferred to Casino Central so that it could allegedly be checked by the IPLyC’s audit staff. However, that was just a ruse to get the money out of the account.

Faced with the evident lack of money that would inevitably be verified by the staff of the IPLyC, whoever was behind the maneuver needed to find a solution. So, money was taken from the Casino del Mar and put back into the account.

Because the funds allegedly passed through the IPLyC, the movement was classified as an illegal seizure of public funds. This led to the charges against Menéndez and De Luca.

There was no physical evidence linking the two to the crimes, only hearsay. Witness statements at the time said that Menéndez, on multiple occasions, ordered the treasury to provide him with money. It was for expenses that he would later justify through receipts.

Those receipts never appeared. The same is true of any paper trail that could have verified the role he played. Because some of the witnesses were former employees and a lack of tangible evidence, the Supreme Court had to wipe the slate clean.