BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A court sentenced a former Argentine government official Wednesday to six years in prison for illicit enrichment after he tried to hide millions of dollars in cash at a convent.
Former public works secretary José López was arrested in 2016 when he was trying to stash bags full of nearly $9 million and about 150,000 euros at the convent on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. A security video also showed Lopez carrying an automatic rifle when a nun received him at the convent.
The case became a symbol of Argentina’s entrenched corruption.
The federal court barred López from holding public office for life. It also ruled that the cash and luxury watches that were found on the bags must be donated to two children’s hospitals in Argentina’s capital, “for medical assistance, equipment and research, so that everything that has been seized can have a public use.”
López served during President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and during the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015. Dozens of businessmen have been accused of having paid bribes in exchange for lucrative public works contracts during the 12 years that Kirchner and Fernandez were in power.
López, who is being detained in a prison, says he has committed no wrongdoing and can appeal the sentence. He has claimed the money belonged to several people, “connected to politics,” without providing any details.
“I don’t even know who they are and I don’t want to know,” López said previously, adding that he feared that any other information he could disclose might put his family at risk.