21 December 2017
Argentine police searched through navy headquarters and state-run shipyard offices on Wednesday in a bid to investigate the disappearance of a submarine last month.
A judge ordered the searches to help probe alleged irregularities with repairs on the German-built submarine.
The searches came after the navy appeared to implicate two German companies Ferrostaal and Hawker, for electrical repair problems with the submarine. Argentine authorities on Wednesday also searched the Buenos Offices of Ferrostaal.
Argentina's ARA San Juan went missing in the South Atlantic last week with dozens of crew members on board. The German-built diesel-electric submarine was commissioned in 1985, but was refitted in 2014 — leading to some concerns that a mistake was made during the renovation.
Contract irregularitiesLawmaker Elisa Carrio from President Mauricio Macri's coalition has lodged a legal complaint against two former defense ministers, alleging irregularities in the repair contract had favored the German companies.
German public broadcasters Bayerischer Rundfunk reported on allegations earlier this month that German contractors had paid hefty bribes for the lucrative contract and had installed inferior battery cells in the submarine.
The German companies were awarded contracts to supply 964 battery cells for the submarine at a cost of€€5.1 million ($6.1 million).
The San Juan reported a short-circuit problem with its batteries shortly before it disappeared in the South Atlantic with 44 people aboard. Monitoring groups reported hearing an explosion at the time.
Ferrostaal told the German DPA news agency last week that the Argentine navy had decided to replace the battery cells instead of acquiring new batteries to save costs. Ferrostaal said it did not directly participate in the repairs, only mediating a contract between Argentina and Hawker for spare parts and technical support. Ferrostaal said it was not aware of any irregularities.
Navy travels to GermanyIn the first week of December, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told the Associated Press that officials had traveled to Germany to obtain more information about the design of the submarine San Juan, which underwent maintenance and repairs between 2008 and 2014.
When asked if the repairs had been certified by the manufacturer, Balbi said there are some processes that the Germany company might have been involved in and others where it was not.
The German shipmaker said in a statement that "ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems employees haven't been in operational contact with the Argentine submarine fleet for more than two decades." The TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in the 1980s.
Authorities have given up searching for the submarine, admitting the crew members are dead.
Judge Marta Yanez, who issued the latest warrant, is also overseeing another inquiry into "possible wrongdoing," in response to desperate pleas for answers from family members.