Judge: Argentine commerce secretary abused power

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By FREDERICK BERNAS, Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno was charged on Tuesday with abusing his power by trying to fine economists who publish independent inflation data.

The move turned the tables on Moreno, who last week asked a judge to file charges against several private economists for "speculation," accusing them of trying to enrich their clients by releasing false information.

Judge Claudio Bonadio also placed a 50,000-peso ($8,735) lien on the minister's assets pending trial, and filed similar charges and liens against two lower-ranking commerce ministry officials. They could face two years in prison if convicted.

The judge said Moreno's efforts to fine economists 500,000 pesos (roughly $87,700 at the official exchange rate) was "nothing other than an effort to silence" experts who were releasing "public information" in the form of technical data that challenges the government's numbers. The official statistics agency, INDEC, routinely reports annual inflation of around 10 percent.

The case against Moreno stemmed from a complaint filed by Jorge Todesca, an economist whose consulting firm frequently reports inflation running above 20 percent annually.

The judge said Moreno's interference represents "an arbitrary and forceful act" by a minister who has no right to take such actions.

Moreno had argued that he was acting fully within his responsibilities, and accused the consulting firms of falsifying data to generate unfair and "extraordinary profits" for their clients.

The Argentine Congress is debating a proposed 2014 budget that presumes 6.2 percent economic growth and 10.4 percent inflation — figures that drew immediate criticism from outside analysts.

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