Judge subpoenas journalist’s phone records

New York, September 27, 2002—An Argentine federal judge has subpoenaed the phone records of Thomas Catan, the Buenos Aires correspondent for the U.K.-based Financial Times. The records could potentially reveal the journalist’s sources.

On August 20, 2002, Catan, citing unnamed bankers and diplomats he interviewed, reported that Argentine legislators had solicited bribes from foreign banks operating in Argentina as a condition for stalling a bill that, among other things, sought to reinstate a 2 percent tax on interest and commissions for a failed health scheme for bank workers. The tax has been strongly opposed by foreign banks, which could reportedly lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

A federal investigation into the bribery allegations was launched in early September and Catan was called to testify by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadío. In his testimony on September 17, Catan said that his story was supported by four sources that he refused to identify. Judge Bonadío asked the journalist to give his phone number, without explaining why it was necessary. As Catan finished his testimony, however, the journalist was told that his phone records would likely be subpoenaed.

After learning that on September 18 Judge Bonadío ordered the State Intelligence Office (SIDE) to provide him with Catan’s phone records, the journalist decided to appeal the decision before a higher court claiming that the decision goes against Article 43 of the Argentine Constitution, which protects the “secrecy of the sources of journalistic information.” Should the appeal fail, the journalist intends to file a grievance.

“The ability to maintain the confidentiality of sources is essential to the functioning of a free press,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Judge Bonadío’s actions pose a grave threat to all journalists in Argentina.”