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McClatchy's Kevin Hall is out with a new article raising more questions about the propriety of Mark Sanford's trade mission to Argentina last summer.

Sanford had personally suggested adding Argentina to the trade mission, which originally planned a trip to Brazil. He met with his Argentine lover during the trip, which cost South Carolina taxpayers about $8,000. A Republican state lawmaker has already called for an independent investigation into whether Sanford misused state funds for personal profit.

Sanford says the trip was "entirely professional and appropriate," but Hall's article raises new questions about that claim. It turns out Sanford made the trip despite U.S. policy against such trade missions stemming from Argentina's refusal to repay debt, including debt to independent U.S. farmers.

Argentina has been a financial pariah since it defaulted on its international debt after its decade-long effort to peg its currency to the U.S. dollar collapsed in late 2001. Argentina effectively told its creditors it was their fault that they'd lent to the nation and declined to pay or restructure much of its foreign debt.

...

The Commerce Department halted high-level trade missions to Argentina after Argentina reneged on its debts. A Commerce Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly, confirmed that Sanford's visit contradicted federal policy.

Moreover, on the trip, Sanford met with Daniel Scioli, the governor of Buenos Aires, to discuss agribusiness.

It's not clear how Sanford, whose state generates 1.5 percent of all U.S. exports, arranged a meeting with the governor of Argentina's most important agricultural state. A Scioli aide declined comment, saying the Argentine governor's team didn't want to deal with a distraction with imminent provincial elections in Argentina.

Sanford's office wasn't answering calls from reporters on Thursday.

All of this suggests, as Hall writes, that the motivation for Sanford's Argentina trip didn't have anything to do with the interests of South Carolina.

Sanford's tearful news conference on Wednesday suggests that trade wasn't the opportunity the South Carolina government sought in Argentina.

Even without taking into account Sanford's AWOL excursion last week, it seems that South Carolina state legislators have the basic building blocks of a strong case for impeaching Sanford (if he doesn't resign first), but if it turns out that Sanford's lover stood to benefit from any of his actions, a strong case will become a slam dunk one.

Initial reports from Argentina said that Sanford's lover was an executive at an agribusiness firm, Bunge Limited. Bunge, however, says this is incorrect.

Several media outlets reported that Chapur works for Bunge y Born, a multi-national agribusiness with deep roots in Argentina. Bunge y Borne is now known as Bunge Limited, based in White Plains, N.Y.

Stewart Lindsay, a spokesman for Bunge Limited, said Chapur has never worked for the company. He said the confusion may stem from published race results from a 2005 marathon in which Chapur ran alongside Bunge workers with whom she is friends.

"But she is not an employee and has never worked there," Lindsay said.

Although she apparently never worked directly for Bunge, she did identify herself as affiliated with Bunge during that 2005 marathon. Unless there was a complete mixup, it does seem likely that she has some sort of relationship either to the firm or to the people who work there.

Given that the firm is focused on agribusiness interests, understanding whether there was in fact a relationship there may help explain Sanford's Argentina itinerary.

At a minimum, it seems that Sanford organized the Argentina leg of his travel plans to satisfy his own personal needs. If he also used it to help benefit his lover, it will just make his official transgressions even worse.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sat Jun 27, 2009 at 01:46 PM PDT.

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