Mayor's sons accused of cheating

June 26, 1998

The sons of the mayor of Buenos Aires in Argentina have been accused of using their father's influence to better their exam results at the city's university, writes Rebecca Warden.

The faculty of law at the University of Buenos Aires where both Fernando and Antonio de la Rua are students has launched an inquiry into the accusations.

The faculty is known as the "school for presidents" as so many leading politicians have studied there. The affair has also revived memories of a scandal involving the daughter of the president Carlos Menem, Zulema Yoma, who was accused by classmates of using the services of secret agents to cheat in her exams.

Two reasons have turned the latest affair into a national talking point. First, Fernando de la Rua senior is not only the top official of the nation's capital, he is also front-runner to stand in next year's presidential elections for the opposition Radical Party and has so far managed to maintain a reputation for honesty in the often murky world of Argentine politics.

Second, the accusations are based on tapes recorded by illegal phone taps on the de la Rua family's private line, causing concern about the right to privacy.

The storm broke recently when daily newspaper Perfil published transcripts of a conversation in which the mayor allegedly asks a university lecturer to pass his son Fernando for a law course he had not attended.

In another, a voice said to be Fernando Junior tells a classmate that the reason why he gets good marks without attending lectures is: "I am the son of the mayor."

The students have both protested their innocence and said the tape recordings are faked. Mr de la Rua has said his sons are being used as political pawns in a dirty tricks campaign against him. He has accused two former town councillors, both members of his own party, of involvement.

Public opinion, however, is more inclined to believe forces close to the ruling Justicialist Party are behind the incident.

According to the mayor, his telephone has been tapped for some time now and it has since emerged that over 3,000 hours of illegal recordings of other top politicians' conversations also exist.

Andros D'Alessio, dean of the Buenos Aires law faculty, has promised to find the truth. The university inquiry is expected to be lengthy and, should guilt be proved, the maximum sanctions include expulsion for the students and dismissal for the lecturers.

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