Dangerous precedent? Argentine judge abandons case against criminal group

An Argentine judge stepped down from prosecuting a criminal group with ties to national security forces this week after an incriminating photo emerged. How the justice precedes from here could set an important precedent for the nation's ability to go after organized crime.

Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Elyssa Pachico’s work here.

In a case that could set an important precedent for Argentina's ability to go after local organized crime, the judge handling a case [against an Argentine criminal group] stepped down after a photo emerged showing him attending a boxing match with a gang member's family.

The judge, Juan Carlos Vienna, was overseeing the prosecution of 36 alleged members of the criminal group the Monos, one of the more powerful groups operating in central Argentina. Among the suspects are 11 members of the security forces.

Last week, various media outlets in Argentina published a photo that purportedly showed the judge at a US boxing match in September 2012, sitting just two seats away from the father of a slain member of the Monos. 

Mr. Vienna confirmed that he does appear in the photo, but he said that its release was part of a "larger operation" to tar his image, Clarin reports. On Sept. 30, he said that he would no longer preside over the case against the Monos, stating, "I'm tired of this. They're trying to block the investigation."

Vienna has previously faced threats for his involvement in the Monos case. Earlier this year, authorities said they had uncovered plans to assassinate him.  

InSight Crime Analysis

The Monos operate in the city of Rosario in Santa Fe Province, one of the more strategic and violent regions for Argentina's international drug trade thanks to its location at the end of a major highway that runs to Bolivia. It's an area plagued by gangs and corruption, which is precisely why setting a precedent with this current case against the Monos is so important. If Argentine authorities are able to fairly prosecute the alleged gang members and their allies, it will be a testament to the justice system's ability to successfully go after powerful, local organized crime with potential ties to security forces.

The judge replacing Vienna, Alejandra Robles, has handled high-profile cases before, including one involving an attack that an armed group carried out against the home of Santa Fe's governor last year. That case saw some arrests, but still hasn't resulted in a sentence, an uncomfortable reminder of the challenges faced by authorities in Argentina.

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