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argentina CORRUPTION AND THE COURTS

Máximo Kirchner appears in court over 'notebooks' graft case

Eldest son of Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner denounces 'lack of evidence' against him, questions Judge Claudio Bonadio's leadership of probe.

Tuesday 23 October, 2018
Máximo Kirchner arrives at the Comodoro Py courthouse in Buenos Aires.
Máximo Kirchner arrives at the Comodoro Py courthouse in Buenos Aires. Foto:NA/HUGO VILLALOBOS

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Máximo Kirchner, national deputy and eldest son of former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, appeared in court this morning to testify in the so-called ‘notebooks’ corruption case, probing the alleged payments of million of dollars in bribes and kickbacks siphoned off from public works projects.

At around 11am local time, Kirchner appeared with his lawyer Carlos Beraldi at Comodoro Py courthouse in Buenos Aires. The entire fourth floor was shut down on Judge Claudio Bonadio’s orders, with mobile phones and recording devices forbidden from the area. 

Refusing to answer questions, the Unión por Todos deputy presented a letter alleging the case was risen "irregularities, illegality and criminal activities.” It questioned Bonadio’s jurisdiction over the case, the actions of Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli and denounced the alleged lack of evidence against the lawmaker. 

“There is no evidentiary element that even remotely justifies my subpoena,” it read.

In another section it railed against "false accusations" made with the "sole purpose of insulting opposition political leaders."

Kirchner alleged that he had only been summoned to testify because he was leader of the La Cámpora group, leaving left the courthouse some 40 minutes after arriving.

He was called to testify after testimony from former government official José López, who turned state’s witness after being implicated in corruption himself. 

López, a former public works secretary, alleges that the national lawmaker received payments from businessman via briefcases.

In his appearance before Bonadio, Máximo Kirchner expressed doubts over the veracity of López’s claims and asked he be allowed to review video footage of the whistleblower’s testimony, as well as others who had accused him of criminal wrongdoing.

As a lawmaker in the lower chamber of Congress, Kirchner is protected by congressional immunity from imprisonment, although not from prosecution. 

Family connections

Kirchner's mother, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is accused of having headed the alleged “illicit association” through which tens of millions of dollars in bribes were paid. She has already been called in for questioning twice by Bonadio, the judge leading the wide-ranging corruption investigation.

However, like her son, she is also a lawmaker (currently a sitting senator for Buenos Aires Province), meaning she too benefits from congressional immuinity. Senators would have to vote to strip her of that benefit, before her arrest could proceed. If such a decision is not taken, she would not be jailed, even if found guilty.

Analysts see such a move as unlikely. However, in August the Senate did vote to partially lift her immunity so that investigators could search her three luxury homes, a move that Fernández de Kirchner backed as well.

Three Kirchner family residences – a department in Buenos Aires and their houses of Río Gallegos and El Calafate, in Patagonia – were raided with authorisation from the Senate.

Fernández de Kirchner, 65, is under investigation in seven corruption cases in total, though she claims she is the victim of "judicial persecutions" aimed at derailing her bid to run for a third presidential term in next year's elections.

Investigation

The 'notebooks' graft case is based on an investigation by La Nación newspaper into alleged corruption over more than a decade during the governments of Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband.

More than 40 people have been arrested in the case to date. They include business leaders and a number of former officials who served in Fernández de Kirchner's two-term 2007-2015 administration.

Both Fernández de Kirchner, 65, and Néstor Kirchner, whom she succeeded as president in 2007, are suspected of having accepted millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen. According to the investigation, bribes were delivered by a ministerial chauffeur to various locations, including the Kirchners' private residences over a 10-year period.

Stornelli has said a total of US$160 million in bribes may have been stolen between 2005 and 2015.

At her last court appearance, Fernández de Kirchner stressed her "categorical and strict denial" that she "committed any crime" or was involved in "any illicit activity." Also facing trial in several other corruption cases, she has previously accused Bonadio of carrying out "judicial persecutions" aimed at derailing a possible presidential run next year.

- TIMES/AGENCIES

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