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Mauricio Macri Is Charged With Illegal Surveillance

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A judge in Argentina has charged the former president, Mauricio Macri, with ordering illegal surveillance on relatives of sailors who died in a 2017 submarine accident.

In a 171-page indictment issued on Wednesday, Judge Martín Bava wrote that there was enough evidence to put Mr. Macri, 62, on trial, arguing that he was ultimately responsible for espionage targeting family members of the 44 crew members who died aboard the Navy submarine, the San Juan.

Mr. Bava also barred Mr. Macri from leaving Argentina and ordered that assets of Mr. Macri that are worth nearly $1 million be frozen. If convicted, Mr. Macri could face up to 10 years in prison.

The indictment is the latest in a long series of prosecutions against former Argentine officials in a court system that experts regard as heavily politicized and underhanded.

It comes weeks after Mr. Macri’s coalition performed surprisingly well during midterm elections.

Mr. Macri, who governed Argentina from 2015 to 2019, has long denied any wrongdoing in the matter. His lawyer, Pablo Lanusse, has vowed to appeal.

The former president has contended that Judge Bava should recuse himself from the case, arguing that he is doing the bidding of the current government, which is led by rivals.

“This is a political persecution,” Mr. Macri told journalists on Wednesday.

Several former Argentine officials have faced criminal charges after leaving office. Judges, who play a role akin to that of an American prosecutor, often aggressively pursue politicians who have lost power.

The charges against Mr. Macri came less than a week after a series of legal victories for Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a former president who faced numerous corruption cases during the years Mr. Macri was in power.

In October, a court dismissed a criminal case against Mrs. Kirchner that accused her of conspiring with Iran to cover up that country’s suspected involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.

Mr. Macri’s allies made big gains in midterm elections last month, breaking the governing coalition’s control of the Senate. That means the coalition will no longer have enough seats to pass legislation without needing to draw broader support.

Mr. Macri had accused Mr. Bava of trying to speed his indictment so that it would take place before the midterm elections on Nov. 14.

In the indictment, Mr. Bava likened the suspected spying of the sailors’ relatives to “the darkest periods of our country,” a reference to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Many family members were highly critical of the government’s response after the San Juan disappeared during a routine security patrol off the coast of Patagonia on Nov. 15, 2017.

“These people did not demand anything other than justice and were not looking for anything else but to know what happened to their loved ones,” Mr. Bava wrote. “It isn’t possible to consider that their demands represented threats to domestic security, national defense or presidential safety.”

Mr. Bava has indicted several other former officials in the case, including Gustavo Arribas, who led the Federal Intelligence Agency during Mr. Macri’s administration.

By Mr. Bava’s telling, intelligence agents infiltrated meetings of family members and took part in protests as a way to gather information about their activities.

Family members often said they believed something was amiss because officials always seemed to be one step ahead of them, at times appearing to know the questions they would pose at meetings.

“This isn’t a joyful day,” said Valeria Carreras, a lawyer who represents a group of family members. “It is a day that confirms something that we already knew.”

The submarine’s disappearance garnered global attention and prompted a huge search-and-rescue operation that included teams from 18 nations.

The wreckage of the San Juan was discovered almost a year to the day of its disappearance, revealing that it had imploded near the ocean floor.

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