Two government officials have been implicated in espionage this week in a case that has presented a challenge for the ruling coalition in the homestretch of the run-off on November 19. Néstor Fabián “Conu” Rodríguez allegedly ordered a retired police officer to spy on Social Development Minister Victoria Tolosa Paz in October 2022. Meanwhile, Deputy Rodolfo Tailhade appeared in a report due to his communications with the same person.
Federal judge Marcelo Martínez De Giorgi ordered a raid on Rodríguez’s house on Monday and barred him from leaving the country on Thursday while rejecting a request for his arrest filed by prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita.
Rodríguez is currently the deputy director of taxpayer services in AFIP, Argentina’s revenue service, and was previously head of the government news agency, Télam. He was also a communication consultant for La Cámpora, the political youth organization headed by Deputy Máximo Kirchner, son of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
According to Pollicita, Rodríguez selected Tolosa Paz as a “target” for espionage and then ordered former police officer Ariel Pedro Zanchetta to find information on her. Pollicita’s 169-page-long opinion outlining the scheme, which the Herald had access to, is part of a wider investigation into the espionage of several judges and former Buenos Aires City Security Minister Marcelo D’Alessandro known as “Lago Escondido.” Zanchetta is currently detained on separate charges within that initial espionage case, together with a 22-year-old hacker, Elías Nuñes Pinheiro.
The Herald spoke to Núñes Pinheiro’s defense lawyer, Sebastián Noguera, and sources close to Zanchetta’s defense — both denied that Zanchetta and the 22-year-old hacker knew each other.
Pollicita contends in his opinion that the investigation proved that Zanchetta managed an “espionage network” that had hundreds of people as targets — politicians, officials, journalists, businesspeople, artists, and union leaders, among others. Presidential candidates, Sergio Massa and Javier Milei, are allegedly among those targeted.
He also wrote that Zanchetta collaborated with the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI, by its Spanish acronym) at least between 2009 and 2015, claiming the former police officer used illegitimate means to access databases, hidden cameras, and a network of spies.
As for Rodríguez’s involvement with Zanchetta, the former police officer allegedly spied on Tolosa Paz in October 2022. On Rodríguez’s supposed orders, he had a file that included her labor records, salaries, credit information, banks, revenue records, and satellite images of her properties, among many others. Zanchetta also published some of that information on his website, Enclave.
Sources close to Zanchetta’s defense acknowledged that there had been contact between Zanchetta and Rodríguez but denied that it was criminal in nature.
“[Zanchetta] knew [Rodríguez] when he was in charge of making the payments in the La Verdad newspaper, and Rodríguez worked in Télam, so it stemmed from his journalistic activity,” the source said.
The source, however, denied that Zanchetta was an “informal intelligence agent,” claimed he had gathered information because he was working as a journalist, and told the Herald they saw no crime in the leaked conversations — only some “peculiar” language.
Pollicita also argued that the espionage was paid for by Buenos Aires government advertising on Zanchetta’s website given Rodríguez’s position at the province’s Public Communications Ministry from December 2019 to August 2021. The Enclave website still features a publicly-funded banner of the Buenos Aires provincial government on the side.
‘A big political maneuver’
A report written by a Supreme Court agency that deals with organized crime also linked Zanchetta with Kirchnerite Deputy Rodolfo Tailhade as the two of them allegedly messaged each other.
However, on Wednesday, Tailhade said that he is not linked to Zanchetta, claiming it was a set-up by the head of the Supreme Court, Horacio Rosatti.
“There is a big political maneuver underway that basically seeks to discredit the impeachment trial of the Supreme Court in the Lower House because they want to put an end to it,” Tailhade said in an interview with Radio Con Vos. Tailhade said that Zanchetta sent him three messages offering information on opposition politicians Elisa Carrió and Luis Juez, as well as the Lago Escondido hacks.
“It was not serious and I did not pay much attention to it,” he said. The source close to Zanchetta’s defense corroborated that the exchange was limited to those messages.
On Thursday, Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) bloc in the Deputy Chamber requested that Tailhade be removed from the Impeachment Committee. In a letter sent to the president of the Lower House, Cecilia Moreau, they argued that Tailhade allegedly received illegal information from Zanchetta.
The head of the committee, Carolina Gaillard, rejected the request as Tailhade “was not charged in any case.”