Tuesday, Mar 28, 2023

Argentina vice president slams corruption case as ‘staged fable’

Argentina vice president slams corruption case as ‘staged fable’

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who survived an assassination attempt this month, faces 12 years on corruption charges.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has delivered a fiery final word in her defence, calling corruption allegations against her a “staged fable designed to drag me by the hair to this trial”.

In closing arguments before a federal court on Friday, Argentina’s powerful vice president also linked the judicial proceedings to an assassination attempt on her earlier this month, and suggested that some of the people behind the September 1 attack have yet to be apprehended.

“Until the first of September, I believed that this was all about stigmatising me, banning me, denigrating me, defaming me. But as of the first of September, I realised that there may be something else behind all this,” she said.

“It’s like the judicial sphere is giving social licence so that anyone can think or do anything.”

Friday’s hearing came just weeks after a man pointed a revolver at Fernandez de Kirchner’s head amid a crowd of supporters who had rallied outside her Buenos Aires home in a show of support amid the corruption case. The attacker pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire.

The assassination attempt drew widespread condemnation but it has had a negligible effect on the public’s opinion of Fernandez de Kirchner, with polls this month pegging her positive image rating at between 24 and 34 percent.

During her address to the court, Fernandez de Kirchner made a point of calling the people now accused in the assassination attempt the “material authors” – saying that “no one can think that that group planned” or “were the intellectual authors” of the attack.

The accused gunman, Fernando Andre Sabag Montiel, 35, has been charged with attempted murder, along with his 23-year-old girlfriend Brenda Uliarte. Two other people have also been arrested.

The case

Friday marked the last opportunity for Fernandez de Kirchner to defend herself before a panel of three judges in Buenos Aires.

She is charged with leading “an illicit organisation” and “aggravated fraudulent administration” in a case that covers a period between 2003 and 2015 during which she and her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, occupied the presidency of Argentina.

Prosecutors say that during her years at the helm, from 2007 to 2015, Fernandez de Kirchner illegally helped direct state funds into public roadworks contracts that were awarded to companies owned by an associate of the Kirchners in the southern province of Santa Cruz, which is their political stronghold.

A total of 51 contracts were awarded to companies owned by Lazaro Baez, who is among 12 other people charged in the roadworks case. Baez was convicted of money laundering in a separate case last year.

“When Nestor Kirchner took over the presidency of the nation, and later his wife … they installed and maintained within the national and provincial administration of Santa Cruz, one of the most extraordinary corruption matrixes that unfortunately and sadly ever existed in the country,” lead prosecutor Diego Luciani said in his remarks last month.

Estimating that $926m was defrauded by the state, Luciani has asked the court to sentence Fernandez de Kirchner to 12 years in prison for her role in the alleged scheme and to impose a lifetime ban on her holding public office.

That triggered huge demonstrations in support of her outside her home, including the one during which the assassination attempt took place.

Political implications

In court on Friday, Carlos Beraldi, Fernandez de Kirchner’s lawyer, went through the allegations made by prosecutors that he said are not backed up by the facts.

Using witness testimony from the trial, he refuted claims that road works were not completed, overpriced or delayed. He also said the cost of the alleged fraud was not a serious estimate. “Cristina Kirchner never issued any directive related to the works under investigation,” said Beraldi.

Fernandez de Kirchner said the prosecutors in this case should be investigated for the “incredible lies” that they propagated, adding that allegations that she headed up an illicit organisation are illogical and unconstitutional. “We were elected by the people. We can never be an illicit association,” she said.

A ruling in the case could come as soon as December, or early next year, when Argentina will have presidential elections.

“This case is important because of the political actors at play,” Argentinian political analyst Ricardo Rouvier told Al Jazeera, noting that Fernandez de Kirchner continues to be the leader of a political minority in Argentina that is nonetheless “very active”.

The implications for next year’s federal election are not yet clear, he added. “We’ll have to see what the outcome is.”


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