Captured on a surveillance video in Argentina was the strange set of circumstances involving a former government minister and a Catholic nun who colluded in hiding ill-gotten cash. Shown on national television, the video shows former Public Works Secretary José López apparently being aided by nuns at Our Lady of the Rosary of Fátima convent to hide sacks full of cash amounting to as much as $8.5 million in various currencies.

López served under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who succeeded her husband, Néstor Kirchner, in office. Both of them belonged to the Peronist party, founded by dictator Juan Peron in the 1940s. Both of the Kirchner presidencies came under fire for alleged corruption, that included the receipt of campaign funding from their fellow leftist, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

The silent video recorded on June 14 when López walks into view at the kitchen door and tries to gain admittance by ringing the doorbell. At one point, he puts down a rifle and scope next to the building. He does not aim or otherwise apparently threaten them with the firearm. Prosecutors claimed that Lopez was armed with a military-grade firearm.

Eventually, nuns in religious dress open the door to López and help him with the sacks full of money. The video was recently released on national television. The convent is located in General Rodriguez -- a town outside of the nation's capital, Buenos Aires, in the province of the same name.

An anonymous caller reported to police that a man was observed throwing bags over the walls of the convent in the pre-dawn hours on July 12. Police arrived in time to find Lopez.

Among the nuns that Argentine law enforcement authorities have summoned is Sister Celia Inés Aparicio. According to a statement from a prosecutor’s office, "The video is clear: Sister Celia Inés Aparicio calmly picked up those bags. Such nonchalance could only be exhibited by and accomplice who tries to conceal a crime." Prosecutor Federico Delgado alleged that the meeting between López and the nuns were pre-arranged and that the religious women were expecting his arrival. "They (nuns) were expecting him (Lopez), it is known that they had a phone conversation beforehand. The nuns opened a door for him early in the morning and even attempted to prevent the police’s arrival," the statement said.

Prosecutor Delgado also alleged that Lopez and his wife were in constant contact, personally and via telephone, in the several hours prior to his arrest and even after he had hidden his cash in a hole dug on the convent’s property. Lopez was arrested on July 12.

Former Argentine Public Works minister, Jose Lopez (L), during his transfer to jail

Hiding his cash at the convent was not the end of Lopez crimes, law enforcement authorities allege. Once he was arrested red-handed, Lopez sought to bribe law enforcement officers at the scene. When the law officers refused the bribe, Lopez told the nuns that police had tried to steal the money he was trying to donate to the convent.

The arrest of Lopez is part of a larger investigation into the embezzlement of $14 millon in Argentine government funding of President Fernandez de Kirchner's housing project for the poor, entitled "Shared Dreams."



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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