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ARGENTINA | 25-05-2019 11:05

CFK in court: an explainer

Former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was in court this week for the first in a string of trials charging her with corruption.

THE CHARGES

In the initial trial, which is expected to last about a year, Fernández de Kirchner faces charges of heading a criminal association that defrauded the state by illegally granting public works projects in the southern province on Santa Cruz during her 2007- 2015 presidency. Prosecutors allege about 50 of those infrastructure contracts benefitted Lázaro Báez, a businessman who was close to her and her late husband and predecessor as president, Néstor Kirchner. Prosecutors also say that a disproportionate amount of projects were allocated to the province through Báez and that several projects were overpriced and many were unfinished. The former president denies any wrongdoing and has called the trial a political “smoke screen.” She accuses the Mauricio Macri administration of persecuting her in hopes of distracting from Argentina’s current economic troubles.

IMMUNITY

Other former presidents have faced trials, but Fernández de Kirchner is the only one to do so while having a clear shot of returning to power. If found guilty, she could face up to 15 years in prison. But it’s not that easy: as a sitting senator for Buenos Aires Province she has immunity from arrest. That immunity could be lifted only by an unlikely two-thirds vote in the Senate. Should she should be elected vice-president, that post also has immunity from arrest.

IN THE DOCK

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is among 13 accused in the current trial, including Báez. Others include former planning minister Julio de Vido, former public works secretary José López and several others who served during her administration as well as her late husband’s. Hearings will continue in the coming weeks, but the vice-presidential candidate will only be expected to return to court for questioning and then at end of the trial when she will have a chance to say some final words before the verdict. More than 120 witnesses will be called to testify. They include her former Cabinet chief, Alberto Fernández, who is now at the top of her party’s presidential ticket.

POPULARITY

Human rights leaders, left-wing politicians and unionists showed their support for Fernández de Kirchner at the courtroom Tuesday. Outside, supporters chanted her name and songs about returning to power. “Her public support has remained steady for years, even as mountains of evidence of misconduct have come to light,” said Benjamin Gedan, an Argentina expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The analyst said, however, that images of the former president in court will definitely not help her attract undecided voters during the October election. Detractors blame the former president for endemic corruption and the deterioration of the economy. But many Argentines are also suspicious of the courts. Gedan pointed out that in the latest Pew Research Center survey, “only 18% of respondents in Argentina said they trust the courts.”

IN THE PIPELINE

Fernández de Kirchner faces numerous formal investigations into allegations of money laundering and criminal association. And, along with other former officials, she also faces trial on charges that she covered up the role of Iranians alleged to be tied to the 1994 terrorist bombing at the AMIA Jewish community centre that killed 85 people. The prosecutor who first recommended charges against her in that case, Alberto Nisman, died mysteriously of a gunshot wound days later in a case that is still under investigation.

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