Thursday, September 22, 2011

Schoklender and The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo

Former financial manager Sergio Schoklender
The scandal that has rocked the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Foundation continues with Magistrate Norberto Oyarbide announcing last week that raids by Argentine Police have successfully uncovered several “financial caves” which the foundation’s former financial manager Sergio Schoklender used for money laundering.

Schoklender and the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have been a major feature in the Argentine press during the recent months since accusations were made at the end of May about irregularities in the foundation’s finances.

Schoklender, imprisoned in the 1980s with his brother for the massacre of their parents, is accused of mismanaging millions of dollars from the Kirchner government funded ‘Shared Dreams’ programme, whose mission was to build homes for the poor. He is alleged to have built himself a luxury lifestyle complete with a collection of sports cars, yachts and villas.

The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo is an association of mothers whose children disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. It was formed in 1977 when fourteen women whose children had disappeared began to demonstrate outside La Casa Rosada (government house) in the Plaza de Mayo.

Wearing white headscarves on which the missing children’s names appear, the number of mothers grew and grew and over the years they have together applied pressure on both the military and democratic governments to get answers as to the whereabouts of their loved ones. To date they have identified 256 missing children who were taken and then adopted into families usually close to the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

Hebe de Bonafini
When Nestor Kirchner decided to have members of the country’s dictatorship retried for human rights abuses, he formed close ties with the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the relationship eventually led to the inauguration in 2006 of Sueños Compartidos (Shared Dreams), a social programme designed to build homes for the poor.

$US45 million of public money was made available to Hebe de Bonafini, the 82 year old President of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Association. For the construction work she hired Meldorek, a company owned by Sergio Schoklender, a friend and advisor who was released from prison in 1995 after serving fourteen years in prison for his part in the infamous murder case which riveted Argentina.

Competitors in the construction business soon highlighted the fact that Meldorek’s prices were somewhat inflated but it wasn’t until May this year when Sergio left the company after a falling out with his brother Pablo, who also participated in the Shared Dreams programme, that evidence of his extravagant lifestyle and disparities in the programme’s finances came to public light.

Sergio, who met Hebe de Bonafini while participating in a rehabilitation programme while imprisoned, denies any wrongdoing, despite owning 90% of Meldorek, a company which charges $40,000 for a home that others build for $25,000 according to Congressman Gustavo Ferrari. And with respect to his luxury purchases, he says the 19 room country estate which he bought is to be used as a drug rehabilitation centre by the Buenos Aires Province government. Bonafini speaking after last week’s raids of their offices said she wants to “punish the bastards”. She maintained that The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo has nothing to hide and that both Sergio and Pablo Schoklender ought to be “sent to jail forever”.

The President of the organisation is no stranger to scandal herself however. Considered an ultra militant Kirchnerite, Mrs. de Bonafini is staunchly anti U.S and admits to having felt happiness after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, referring to the hijackers as “courageous”. Her strong political views were partly responsible for the splitting in two of the organization in the 1980s.

The extent of the financial scandal of Shared Dreams, whose budgets total around US$300 million, has been a surprise for President Cristina Kirchner but she has so far avoided any political damage as her government attempts to shift the blame away from Hebe de Bonafini and onto the ‘swindling’ and ‘cheating’ Schoklenders, who for the time being will perhaps not be enjoying any of those sports cars, yachts, limousines or villas.  

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