Argentine top court justice rented out brothels

August 2, 2011 - 5:14 PM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — An Argentine Supreme Court justice faces a possible ethics investigation for renting out apartments used for prostitution.

Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni has said he had no idea that six of his 15 rental properties were being used as brothels.

Opposition lawmakers demanded Tuesday that the justice be called to testify before a congressional ethics committee about exactly what he knew, and when.

The apartments were identified in a series of criminal complaints filed by "La Alameda" ("The Avenue"), a group that fights sexual slavery. The group said it had collected testimony from neighbors of the apartments and that the prostitutes included women from Paraguay and the Dominican Republic who advertised through the "High Heels" website and other escort services.

Zaffaroni has said he delegated the job of managing the apartments to a legal representative and that he didn't know any of the tenants.

"I just received what they paid me and I didn't even pay much attention to the accounts. Now that I'm aware, I'm going to make sure that the apartments are cleared out," Zaffaroni was quoted by the Pagina 12 newspaper as saying last week. In a separate interview with Radio Continental, the justice said: "If this is going on, I'm grateful for the scandal because it will save me from a police eviction."

Zaffaroni, 71, became a justice in 2003 as part of an effort by the late President Nestor Kirchner to transform a Supreme Court that had been dominated by right-wing figures. He remains one of Argentina's more liberal justices, favoring gay marriage and abortion rights, decriminalizing marijuana use and objecting to stiff punishments for petty criminals from impoverished backgrounds.

Kirchner's widow, President Cristina Fernandez, is now running for re-election and faces a primary vote in less than two weeks. Her leading opponent, Ricardo Alfonsin, called Tuesday for Zaffaroni to resign even though he does not face any charges.

"It's difficult to believe that the owner of six apartments doesn't know what they're used for when he rents them out," Alfonsin told Radio 10.

"The Avenue" group has spent years contributing evidence to an ongoing investigation into properties used as brothels in Argentina, and named Zaffaroni as the owner of three such apartments last year. The group linked three more apartments to Zaffaroni last week.

The connection to the Supreme Court justice became front-page news again in Argentina after the president decreed a ban on prostitution ads in newspapers and other mass media two weeks ago. Fernandez specifically called the opposition Clarin newspaper hypocritical for profiting from prostitution while campaigning against crime.

According to "The Avenue," some of the now-banned Clarin ads sent men seeking high-priced call girls to the Supreme Court justice's apartments.