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Argentina ex-minister caught hiding cash in monastery

Thursday, June 16, 2016 - 10:37
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Argentine police arrested a former government minister when they caught him trying to hide millions of dollars in cash and jewels at a monastery, officials said.

[BUENOS AIRES] Argentine police arrested a former government minister when they caught him trying to hide millions of dollars in cash and jewels at a monastery, officials said.

Jose Lopez, 55, served as deputy minister for public works for 12 years under the country's two last presidents.

He was already facing corruption charges in the courts.

He was caught throwing suitcases over a wall into the garden of an old monastery now inhabited by nuns, Buenos Aires district security minister Cristian Ritondo told reporters on Tuesday.

One case contained jewelry, euros, yen, dollars and Qatari currency worth more than eight million dollars in total.

Police also found a rifle in his vehicle.

Mr Ritondo said a 94-year-old nun at the monastery told officers that Lopez wanted to hide the money there so the police would not take it.

Lopez served as minister under leftist former president Cristina Kirchner and her predecessor and late husband Nestor.

He is currently a deputy in the South American regional assembly Parlasur.

"It is like a scene from a film. He has some explaining to do," said Marcos Pena, chief of staff to President Mauricio Macri.

"This shows that there were at the very least enormous problems of transparency and discretional spending, and at the worst, serious problems of corruption" under the Kirchners, Mr Pena said.

Lopez's lawyer told journalists he was mentally unwell.

"He hears voices. He's delirious. He has hallucinations," said Fernanda Herrera, who besides being an attorney is a famous Argentine cumbia singer and former model.

"We're waiting for an ambulance. The doctors need to evaluate" whether her client is able to answer investigators' questions, she said outside the prosecution's offices.

Mr Macri, who won election promising a sea change in Argentine politics, launched a fight against corruption when he took office in December.

He himself was named in the Panama Papers scandal in which media leaked details of accounts in offshore tax havens. He has denied wrongdoing.

AFP