Human Rights Activist Charged With Embezzlement in Argentina

Sergio Schoklender, the longtime operations chief of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Madres de la Plaza de Mayo), has been formally charged and jailed for criminal conspiracy and the embezzlement of more than $156 million from the Argentinean government.

A judge in Argentina last week ordered the detention of Schoklender, his brother and his accountant, for the creation of a company using the funds of the non-profit organization Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The organization was established 35 years ago, according to its website, and states that among its various missions is to help house the poor.

Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo also organizes protests every week to demand information about the children who disappeared during Argentina's military dictatorship during the 70s and the 80s.

According to the Argentinean newspaper La Nación, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo has become the second largest construction company in the nation.

The case against Schoklender was opened a year ago when the founder and current president of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Hebe de Bonafini, accused him of being the leader of an "unlawful association" that caused severe financial damage to the organization.

Schklender has also been accused of diverting funds from Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo to buy properties, planes, a Ferrari and a yacht. However, he has denied the accusations alleging that his lifestyle is related to his earnings aside from his work with the nonprofit organization.

Before being taking in custody, Schoklender resolutely denied the accusations saying, "Every time they tried to plot something, that would fall apart, so they have had to invent more accusations."

Schoklender has also said that Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo has close ties with subversive armed groups in Latin America, like the FARC in Colombia.

The newspaper La Nación reported last year, prior to the country's presidential elections that Argentina's government was implicated in the scandal.

According to the newspaper's reports, documents obtained show that Argentina's federal government forced provincial and municipal governments to establish construction projects with Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, otherwise they would be denied federal funds.

The Argentinean government has denied the newspaper's claims. The country`s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was re-elected in October 2011 has been an important ally of Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo for years.

Bonafini, who is good friends with Fernández, said recently that she does not believe Fernández should seek re-election in 2015.

"I like the fact that she continues with the national and popular project, but I don't think she should continue being the president. There is a need for a change. Nobody can replace her, she's unique, but there are a lot of capable people," said Bonafini.