Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Scandal: La Pinguina, Argentina and the MacBook Air

May 25, 2008: 9:50 AM ET

There's a Sherman Adams-style political controversy heating up in South America in which the role of the vicuna fur coat is played by a MacBook Air.

The star is Cristina Kirchner, the president of Argentina -- the second woman to hold that office (after Isabel Martinez de Peron).

The supporting role is played by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the second richest man in the world, who controls Telefonos de Mexico (TMX) and thus telecommunications over much of Latin America. His name came up in association with Apple earlier this month when Steve Jobs chose his wireless spinoff, America Movil (AMX), to bring the iPhone to 16 countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. (see here)

The story begins when billionaire Slim gave President Kirchner the gift of a slim, elegant MacBook Air. The Argentine press got hold of a photograph of the event and began stirring up trouble for La Pinguina, as they have nicknamed her (because of her husband's roots in southern Argentina).

The issue, for several Argentinian newspapers (see here, for example, in Spanish) is whether a MacBook Air, which can fetch more than AR$9,600 in the devalued Argentinian dollar ($3,096 in U.S. dollars), should be considered a "luxury item" -- something the President is forbidden by article 256 of the Penal Code to accept as a personal gift.

The code is usually invoked for really big items, like the $120,000 red Ferrari one of her predecessors, Carlos Menem, was forced to turn over to the state.

At least one Argentinian lawyer has come to Kirchner's defense, arguing that by comparison a MacBook Air might be considered just a "courtesy," a thing of "little value." (see here)

Maybe in Argentina.

Anway, thanks for the tip goes to Investor Village's boxerconan, who sees the whole thing as more free publicity for Apple (AAPL). Thanks also to macenstein for the link to the photograph. For more on the story, see huibert-aalbers.com.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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