An Argentinian judge has charged former President Mauricio Macri with ordering the illegal surveillance of relatives of sailors who died in a submarine crash in 2017.
In a 171-page indictment released on Wednesday, Judge MartÃn Bava wrote that there was enough evidence to bring 62-year-old Mr Macri to justice, claiming he was ultimately responsible for espionage targeting the family members of the 44 crew members who died aboard the Navy Submarine, the San Juan.
Mr Bava also banned Mr Macri from leaving Argentina and ordered Mr Macri’s assets worth almost $ 1 million to be frozen. If convicted, Macri faces up to 10 years in prison.
The indictment is the latest in a long line of lawsuits against former Argentine officials in a justice system experts see as highly politicized and underhanded.
It comes weeks after Mr Macri’s coalition performed surprisingly in the midterm elections.
Mr. Macri, who ruled Argentina from 2015 to 2019, has long denied any wrongdoing in the matter. His lawyer, Pablo Lanusse, swore to appeal.
The former president argued that Judge Bava should recuse himself from the case, arguing that he is auctioning off the current government, which is run by rivals.
“This is political persecution,” Macri said told reporters on Wednesday.
Several former Argentinian officials have faced criminal charges after leaving office. Judges, who play a role similar to that of a US prosecutor, often aggressively pursue 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 FernÃ¡ndez de Kirchner, a former president who has faced numerous corruption cases over the years Mr. Macri was in power.
In October, a court dismissed a criminal case against Ms Kirchner who accused her of conspiring with Iran to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Mr. Macri’s allies have made big gains in midterm elections last month, breaking the government coalition’s control over the Senate. This means that the coalition will no longer have enough seats to pass legislation without needing to gain wider support.
Mr Macri had accused Mr Bava of trying to speed up his indictment so that it took place before the midterm elections on November 14.
In the indictment, Mr Bava compared the alleged espionage of relatives of sailors to “the darkest times in our country”, a reference to the military dictatorship of 1976-1983.
Many family members sharply criticized the government’s response to the San Juan’s disappearance during a routine security patrol off the coast of Patagonia on November 15, 2017.
According to Mr. Bava, intelligence agents infiltrated meetings of family members and participated in demonstrations in order to gather information on their activities.
Family members often said they thought something was wrong because officials always seemed to be one step ahead of them, sometimes appearing to know what questions they would ask in meetings.
“These people demanded nothing but justice and sought nothing more than to know what had happened to their loved ones,” Bava wrote. “It is not possible to consider that their requests represented threats to internal 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 Agency during Mr Macri’s administration.
“It’s not a happy day,” said Valeria Carreras, a lawyer who represents a group of family members. “It’s a day that confirms something we already knew.”
The disappearance of the submarine attracted worldwide attention and triggered a massive search and rescue operation that included teams from 18 countries.
The wreckage of the San Juan was discovered almost a year to the day of its disappearance, revealing that it had imploded near the ocean floor.