Argentina Former Prosecutor Charged with Illegal Gambling, Embezzlement

Posted on: October 27, 2022, 06:56h. 

Last updated on: October 28, 2022, 10:00h.

A former government official in Argentina could soon head to prison for committing the same crimes he was charged with arraigning. Patricio Serjal is a former prosecutor who kept illegal gambling alive in the country instead of preventing it, and could soon share space with some of the same people he locked up.

Patricio Serjal
Former Argentine prosecutor Patricio Serjal speaks with reporters earlier this year. He is on trial for allegedly participating in a scheme that included embezzlement and coercion to help an illegal gambling business run its operations. (Image: Infobae)

Two current prosecutors from Argentina’s Agency for Organized Crime and Complex Crimes have requested a sentence of 12 years in prison for the disgraced prosecutor in the city of Rosario. They also want five years for Nelson Ugolini, a former employee who worked in Serjal’s office.

The pair allegedly helped a known criminal conduct illegal gambling by offering protection in return for money. It was allegedly all part of a larger plot that another former prosecutor, Gustavo Ponce Asahad, orchestrated.

Criminals Helping Criminals

In February of this year, Serjal walked free after 18 months on house arrest pending the trial. Police arrested him in August 2020 on charges of passive bribery. He also faced charges of breach of duty as a public official, embezzlement, transmission of protected data, and failure to prosecute.

With him fell Asahad, who allegedly received up to US$5,000 per month in hush money. His client was Leonardo Peiti and his illegal gambling business. Prosecutors say the money gave Peiti safe passage to conduct his operations and ensured that Asahad wouldn’t investigate him and would help steer investigations in other directions.

Prosecutors presented the sentence request on Wednesday as the trial against Serjal began. They also requested a permanent ban on public service and a fine of ARS90,000 (US$579).

Ugolini’s role in the operation was minor. However, he already had a history of illegal activity before he teamed up with Serjal and Asahad. Prosecutors want him in prison for accepting bribes in return for manipulating documents and investigations to protect his cohorts’ actions.

Ugolini had previously worked as a clerk in the penal system in the city of Venado Tuerto. His employment there came to an end in 2010 over a complaint linking him to irregularities in a case involving an illegal vehicle chop shop.

Five years later, he was back and working at the Rosario Regional Prosecutor’s Office. The pieces came together after the scandal involving Serjal and Asahad broke. The two had apparently sought Ugolini out, knowing his propensity for breaking the law.

Senator Plays Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card

Prosecutors also want to charge Senator Armando Traferri in connection with the case, but they’re not having any luck. The constitution of the province of Santa Fe, which the senator represents, prohibits the initiation of criminal proceedings against acting legislators.

The only way prosecutors can investigate Traferri, or any other legislator in the province, would be if he renounced his privileges or if the Senate decided to remove him. On Dec. 18, 2020, in a split vote, the chamber resolved to uphold Traferri’s privileges.

Suspicion about Traferri arose from cases of complex crimes in the south of the province that led to Serjal’s arrest. Despite claims made under oath that Traferri had his hands in the illegal activity, the senator has remained untouchable.

The trial of Serjal and Ugolini is just now getting underway and won’t likely conclude until some time next year. Asahad received a three-year prison sentence for his involvement last year. That may be a possible hint of what might be coming for his two cohorts.