Jorge De Sousa Matías Arrested for Alleged Involvement In Smuggling Enterprise

Jorge De Sousa Matías Arrested for Alleged Involvement In Smuggling Enterprise

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September 25, 2016

Jorge De Sousa Matías, Vice President for International Development at River Plate Adventist University (Universidad Adventista del Plata), has been arrested by Argentina’s Policía Federal in a raid on the university campus, Spectrum has confirmed.

The court-ordered raid was one of eight conducted Thursday, apprehending six suspects in an alleged smuggling enterprise involving leaders in the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Argentina. Two shipping containers, reported to customs officials as containing medical supplies for use in River Plate’s medical training programs, were found to be filled with some $15,000,000 Argentine Pesos worth of undeclared electronic goods in addition to some expired medical materials. The shipment was assessed to be worth $6,000,000 Pesos ($396,400 USD) in unpaid import fees.

The Argentina Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (la Asociación Argentina de los Adventistas del Séptimo Día), the named recipient of the shipment, issued a press release saying the shipment contained a variety of goods intended for the training of students from various departments at River Plate--particularly in the department of health sciences, which trains students for medical careers. The Church denied wrongdoing and stated that it was cooperating with authorities.

Media reports from outlets in Argentina did not provide names of those arrested.

According to a student of River Plate Adventist University who asked not to be named, University President Oscar Ramos held an official meeting with students at 6:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. At least 800 students attended. President Ramos confirmed that Jorge De Sousa Matías was arrested and remains in police custody. Ramos reiterated the church’s willingness to cooperate with the Justice Department and to rectify (Sp: “enmendar”) any wrong. The student noted that while Ramos didn't say it, his tone gave the impression that a crime had indeed been committed.

Ramos also asked students to pray for the situation and to help preserve a spiritual climate on campus as Week of Prayer began that evening with featured guest, Pastor Efraín Velázquez.

De Sousa Matías started at River Plate in March, 2008. Before that, he served as director of the Uruguay Adventist Academy (Instituto Adventista del Uruguay) with prior experience as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. In 2009, he was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from Andrews University. His thesis was "Analisis de Razones por las que los Jovenes Abandonan la Iglesia Adventista Del Septimo Dia en Argentina" ("Analysis of Reasons the Youth Abandon the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Argentina").

His alleged participation in smuggling goods into Argentina was not a surprise to one Argentine expatriate living in the United States for two reasons: First, Argentina places notoriously high tariffs on goods coming into the country. Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who left office in 2015, heavily restricted foreign imports in order to boost Argentina’s own businesses and to prop up the value of the Peso. The expat with whom I spoke, who also asked that her name be withheld, stated that as far back as she can remember, goods coming into the country were subject to steep import fees. She added, “The way taxes work when bringing electronics in Argentina is ridiculous. They almost make you pay for the content itself in fines. You have to pay twice--when purchasing outside the country and when bringing it in.” Argentine people at all levels of society have gotten inventive in terms of getting goods and cash into the country. Second, it seems that the school’s purported participation in bringing in undeclared goods is something of an open secret--not spoken about publicly, but known to many who have attended River Plate.

The Adventist Church’s involvement in smuggling continues to be the subject of intensifying media scrutiny in Argentina. With the bright spotlight now shone directly on the church, it is very likely that more details of the Argentina Union Conference’s involvement and the names of more suspects will emerge.

“The list of people involved is still huge,” the ex pat said.

De Sousa Matías is expected to be held in police custody until Thursday or Friday at earliest.

 

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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