An Argentine court charged Daniel Santoro with attempted extortion after the journalist sent a WhatsApp message requesting comment. (Clarín)

Argentine court charges journalist Daniel Santoro with attempted extortion

Miami, April 22, 2021 — The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Argentine authorities to drop the latest criminal charge against investigative journalist Daniel Santoro, who has been subject to repeated legal harassment for at least two years.

On April 19, Judge Luis Rodríguez from the Ninth Federal Criminal and Correctional Court charged Santoro, an investigative journalist at national daily Clarín, with attempted extortion, according to a court document which CPJ reviewed. 

The allegation stems from Santoro’s connections with Marcelo D’Alessio, an Argentine national who has been charged with allegedly extorting businesspeople by threatening them with unfavorable news coverage, according to the court document. Santoro previously told CPJ that D’Alessio was a journalistic source. 

The judge found that Santoro acted as a “necessary participant” in D’Alessio’s alleged attempt to extort businessman Gabriel Traficante in 2016 when the journalist sent Traficante a WhatsApp message requesting comment for an article, according to Clarín. If found guilty, Santoro could face up to five years in prison, according to Argentina’s penal code.

“Criminally charging Daniel Santoro based on a request for comment he sent to a subject of an investigative reporting piece shows a willful lack of understanding of how journalists operate and sets a dangerous precedent for all journalists in Argentina,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick. “Argentine authorities should drop the criminal charge against Santoro and ensure criminal investigations do not threaten press freedom.”  

Santoro denied any criminal misconduct in a phone call with CPJ yesterday: “The judge uses a virtuous journalistic practice — to ask those mentioned in a reporting piece for comment — to accuse me. I am once again fed to the machine that destroys journalists.” Santoro’s lawyers will ask the judge to drop the charge, he told CPJ.

Last year, a different court charged Santoro with illicit association and espionage, also stemming from alleged links to D’Alessio’s alleged criminal practices, as CPJ documented. The charge was dropped in December 2020, according to news reports. In the course of the investigation into D’Alessio in 2019, the judge summoned Santoro and obtained his phone records after subpoenaing the local phone company, as CPJ documented. 

CPJ’s calls to the Ninth Federal Criminal and Correctional Court went unanswered. D’Alessio is in pretrial detention, according to media reports, and CPJ was unable to locate the name or contact information for D’Alessio’s lawyer.