The economic criminal judge Marcelo Aguinsky dismissed the complaint made by lawyer Osvaldo Oscar Albano against supermarkets and food industries for increasing prices and closed the case due to the lack of a crime.
is In December 2023, lawyer Osvaldo Oscar Albano filed a complaint against two groups of businessmen in the food and pharmaceutical industry for “speculating” on price increases. The lawyer stated that this price increase “was due to speculation, negotiations or coalitions that affected public order.”
On the other hand, for the judge, This scenario is “the reflection of a distressing situation of economic imbalance that this nation is going through, in a temporary context of political changes that only deepen uncertainties about the future of the national economy.”.
Aguinsky recalled that “speculation and price control have been recurring problems in the economy throughout history with the logical repercussion in the world of Law. From King Hammurabi’s regulatory stone and his regulated prices (1750 BC) to today’s price controls.
In the context “of economic imbalance that we live in, it cannot be denied that there are cases of speculation. In itself, greater uncertainty, greater speculation. But I don’t think I’m wrong about the climate of speculation that exists in recent times. It is not for profit, but for protection. I doubt that current speculative phenomena are all aimed at “earning more”, but rather they are trying to “lose less”.
But “It is not the criminal law, In this case, the appropriate regulatory tool to try to bring order to this price chaos that dismays the complainant and surely a large part of the population,” the judge added in his resolution.
For the judge, the scope to resolve This complaint is from the National Secretary of Commerce.. “You just have to look at the number of laws and regulations that have the Ministry of Commerce as the enforcement authority. This vademecum of standards constitutes, to a large extent, the legal framework of the competitive market and consumer defense,” he added.
“The criminal law is a remedy of last resort and not a wild card to make judicial populism. The principle of minimal intervention derives from the fragmentary and subsidiary nature of criminal law,” the judge stressed.
He recalled that the National Constitution in its article 42 establishes, among other guidelines, that “the authorities will provide… for the defense of competition against all forms of market distortion, for the control of natural and legal monopolies…”
So, “the highest Argentine standard fosters the existence of a legal framework for the competitive market,” he added.
Our Magna Carta “accepts the idea of ”the invisible hand” to generate a free market that benefits the whole, but by indicating that the rights asserted there must be exercised “in accordance with the laws that regulate their exercise,” the same Fundamental Standard establishes a “visible ring” with rules of the game for fair and profitable competition.”
The complaint was dismissed after the ruling of economic criminal prosecutor Emilio Guerberoff.
According to Albano, these companies would be violating article 300, point 1 of the Penal Code. Which reads “The following will be punished with imprisonment from six (6) months to two (2) years: 1. Anyone who raises or lowers the price of merchandise through false news, fake negotiations or through a meeting or coalition between the main holders of a commodity or goods, in order not to sell it or not to sell it except at a certain price.”
At the same time, Albano also denounced them under articles 209 and 210. Article 209 states that there is an instigation to commit crimes. This one says he will be punished “Whoever publicly instigates the commission of a specific crime against a person or institution will be punished, for the sole instigation, with imprisonment of two to six years, depending on the seriousness of the crime and the other circumstances established in article 41.”
210 talks about illicit associations, reads “Anyone who takes part in an association or gang of three or more people destined to commit crimes for the mere fact of being a member of the association will be punished with prison or confinement of three to ten years. For the heads or organizers of the association, the minimum penalty will be five years in prison or confinement.”
The lawyer’s argument maintained that “businessmen raised their prices according to the increases in the blue dollar to avoid losing assets in the event of a devaluation.” Then, when a new government took office on December 10 and “a devaluation of the official dollar was made to 820, the businessmen proposed that they should make an increase corresponding to the increase in that dollar.” This, for the lawyer, “is an artificial double sum of prices.”
For Albano, this does not present “common sense.” The lawyer stated that “It is an exorbitant and artificial increase in prices”. He added that “The Argentine businessmen had a clear tacit or even possibly express and hidden agreement between them.”.
This agreementaccording to the lawyer it was between “industrial entrepreneurs, wholesalers, suppliers and merchants, in order to achieve a profit system for their benefit, thus causing ‘undetermined harm to an imprecise number of people.'”
Tabatha Barrera Carlini, Master’s Degree from Clarín/Universidad de San Andrés.