The Federal Police and Customs raided informal exchange houses in Buenos Aires City and detained six people on Wednesday night as the parallel exchange rate reached AR$1,010.
Among the raided cuevas (Spanish for caves, as informal exchange houses are known in Argentina), there was one called Nimbus, considered by Customs to be “the biggest one in the city” according to a communiqué released on Thursday.
Its alleged owner is a businessman called Ivo Esteban Rojnica, nicknamed “The Croatian.” According to Customs, he is the main trader of the informal exchange rate known as the “blue dollar” in Buenos Aires and his operations were international in scope. Rojnica opened offshore accounts in the United States, had real estate worth millions in Paraguay, operated financial agencies in Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia, and set up two other companies in Spain.
The government issued a red alert to ban “The Croatian” from leaving the country. Customs also requested Rojnica’s preventive detention in a federal court.
Federal Judge Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi authorized the raids, which were carried out in the context of an investigation into money laundering and illegal operations with the “blue dollar.” The investigation detected millions of dollars worth of irregular operations that used a travel agency belonging to Rojnica as a front to wire money abroad. The fake travel agency used the “card dollar” exchange rate designed for tourism, which earned them a 20% earning.
When the Federal Police and Customs went to the Nimbus headquarters, they found the door closed and the offices empty. Rojnica said via his lawyer that he was not going in person to open the door for them, for fear of being detained. The officers then knocked down the door.
Inside a large space with desks, computers and workstations, the officers found and seized handwritten notes with details of exchange operations, banknote counting machines, and paper shredding machines with torn-up documents.
They also found adhesive strips which can be used to attach bills to a person’s body. Earlier on Wednesday in Chinatown, Federal Police arrested three men of Chinese nationality who, when searched, were hiding bundles of dollars attached to their bodies with the same strips, amounting to US$ 700,000. The three Chinese detainees will be questioned by Judge De Giorgi and are being charged with money laundering.
On Thursday, Economy Minister Sergio Massa referred to the raids at an event at Buenos Aires University’s Medical School. “Yesterday, six people were already arrested,” he said. “Prepare to see the worst of the lowlifes laid bare: Argentines who speculate against Argentines’ savings.”
“I will not stop until I see them in jail,” he said, repeating remarks he made on Tuesday.
On Thursday, after the raids, the price of the blue dollar fell by 3% and ended the day at AR$980.