The Corruption Case Against Argentina’s Vice President Kirchner Explained | News about corruption

Buenos Aires, Argentina – One of Argentina’s most polarizing figures went on the offensive this week as the corruption trial against her entered its next phase.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the country’s former president and current vice president, rejected the “media judicial shooting” that she said had already written her sentence on charges that she led an illegal scheme that drained state funds by awarding public contracts for the construction of a family friend.

On Monday, the chief prosecutor in the case asked a federal court in Buenos Aires to sentence Fernandez de Kirchner to 12 years in prison and bar her from holding public office for the rest of her life. She denied the charges and said she was the victim of legal and political persecution.

“I’ve said this before. They are not coming for me. They’re coming for all of you,” the 69-year-old told supporters at the end of a 90-minute address on Tuesday that was broadcast on her YouTube channel and televised by the media. “For wages, for workers’ rights, for pensioners, for our debt – that’s what they’re looking for.

Here, Al Jazeera examines the case, the public response in Argentina and the potential political implications for the South American nation:

What exactly is she accused of?

Fernández de Kirchner is one of 13 people charged in the so-called “Causa Vialidad,” which centers on the awarding of public construction contracts in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, where she and her late husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, cemented their political careers.

She is accused of “unlawful association aggravated by her capacity as a leader” and “aggravated fraudulent management”.

When is this said to have happened?

The case focuses on a 12-year period beginning in the early 2000s during which 51 contracts were awarded to companies owned by Lázaro Baez, a businessman who was a friend and associate of the Kirchners. Baez, who was convicted last year of money laundering, went from bank clerk to founder of a construction company in the days before Nestor Kirchner took office in 2003.

However, the prosecutor’s office said the construction company was only created as a shell company to withdraw money from the state. Nearly 80 percent of public construction contracts in Santa Cruz between 2003 and 2015 went to Baez, often at inflated prices or with other special considerations, according to prosecutors. Of the 51 contracts, 24 were never completed, he added.

People demonstrate against the vice president of Argentina Kirchner
People protest Fernandez de Kirchner outside her home in Buenos Aires this month [Magali Druscovich/Reuters]

What did her legal team say?

The defense denied the charges. They said the premise of the charges against Fernandez de Kirchner was absurd, noting in particular that public works contracts go through Congress, so any allegation of illegal association, they argued, must extend to that legislature.

But prosecutor Diego Luciani said nearly a third of the contracts bypassed that process, and those that did contained false information. The leftist Fernandez de Kirchner served two terms as president, from 2007 to 2015, following her husband’s four-year rule.

“When Nestor Kirchner assumed 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 matrices of corruption that has unfortunately and regrettably ever existed in the country,” Luciani said during nine days of closing remarks this month, estimating that the alleged “criminal maneuver” cost the state $926 million.

What does Fernandez de Kirchner have to say?

A lot. Deprived of the opportunity to address the tribunal on Tuesday, the vice president, in her 90-minute response shared on YouTube, denounced a “fabricated” case she said was created by her political enemies to discredit her and scare others into submission .

“Nothing the prosecutors have said has been proven,” she said. “These were not accusations; it was a script, and a pretty bad one at that.”

Showing articles written by La Nacion and Clarin, two major Argentine media that she described as “flagships of the right”, Fernandez tried to show how the “script” was written by the media. She focused on court documents and WhatsApp chats between one of her co-defendants, Jose Lopez, a former public works secretary under both Kirchner administrations who was caught in 2016 trying to hide five bags filled with $9 million and a semi-automatic rifle in a convent — and Nicolas Caputo, a construction company owner and close confidant of former president Mauricio Macri, who succeeded her.

“When prosecutor Diego Luciani says, ‘Wherever you press, pus comes out,’ he’s right. It’s your pus, Makristas’ pus,’ she said. “It’s not just about branding and confusing people, it’s about protecting those who are actually robbing the country.”

Supporters of the Vice President of Argentina
Supporters of the vice president gather outside the National Congress on August 23 [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

How does society in Argentina feel about the case?

As with all things related to the vice president, the Argentine public is divided on the matter. On Monday, after the prosecution completed its closing arguments, supporters and opponents lined up outside Fernández de Kirchner’s home in the upscale Buenos Aires neighborhood of Recoleta.

On one side, people held up banners accusing her of being a “thief” and banged pots and pans, while on the other, her supporters sang political chants and jumped up and down in boisterous support. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse Fernandez de Kihner’s supporters in what her allies denounced as a display of excessive violence. A lawmaker from the ruling Frente de Todos coalition was briefly arrested.

Oscar Sanchez, a 60-year-old taxi driver, said he and much of the country were most prosperous during the Kirchner years and that the lawsuit was about targeting an economic model. “I don’t trust the media or the judiciary, which is the most corrupt system here,” he told Al Jazeera. But Maria, a retired radiologist, was angry with the vice president, whom she accused of stealing money. “I think the case against her is real,” said Maria, who declined to give her last name to Al Jazeera.

Supporters gathered outside the National Congress on Tuesday and Fernández de Kirchner took to the balcony and sang songs with them.

What are the next legal steps and how long might this process take?

The process has been going on for three years now, but there is still a long way to go. Each of the 13 defendants will then have an opportunity to make closing statements. They have each been allocated three sessions for these closing remarks and will start in September.

Local media reported that the three-judge panel could issue a verdict as early as December or as late as March next year.

Once this sentence is handed down, the parties have the right to appeal first to the Camera de Casacion Penal and then to the Supreme Court. A potential final hearing in Argentina’s highest court could not come until 2025.

Will Fernandez de Kirchner be allowed to stay in office?

The lawsuit has not interfered with the vice president’s ability to hold public office and will not prevent her from running in national elections next year if she chooses. That’s because even if convicted by the Tribunal Oral Federal 2, the sentence must be “firm” — meaning all appeals must be exhausted — and must come with a prison sentence before it can have any effect of her ability to seek public office.

But a conviction would certainly send shockwaves across the country. All her allies, including President Alberto Fernandez, came out this week denouncing the case as a judicial and media persecution.

“Besides the lack of evidence that the prosecutor has demonstrated, the problem is that he started from a premise that says she, as president, can’t not know what’s going on,” the president said. “All the crimes she’s charged with are crimes that require intent, that he wanted to do it.”

Several left-wing leaders in the region also backed her, while her opponents accused her of stalling tactics. “Instead of defending herself against the accusations, she is talking about something else entirely,” Patricia Bulrich, leader of the opposition PRO party, told the media. “The court will decide whether what the prosecutor said is enough or not.”

There are currently five active court cases against Fernández de Kirchner related to other allegations of corruption and the misuse and expenditure of state resources. She was acquitted or the courts dismissed several other charges.

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