Federal Oral Court Number 2 will on Tuesday deliver a landmark verdict in a divisive corruption trial involving Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is likely to avoid jail even if found guilty due to congressional immunity.
The former president, 69, is accused of fraudulently awarding public works contracts in her stronghold province of Santa Cruz during her two terms as president (2007-2015), and prosecutors want her jailed for 12 years and barred from holding public office for life.
Fernández de Kirchner has been at the centre of national politics for two decades, drawing love and hatred in equal measure. She says the trial is a political witch hunt and the result a foregone conclusion.
"Obviously, there will be a conviction," she told the Brazilian daily Folha de São Paulo in an hour-long interview published on Monday.
The verdict will be read during a hearing that starts at 9.30am local time. Defendants will follow the outcome by videoconference, as has been the norm in the trial since the coronavirus pandemic, a court source told AFP.
The court, led by judges Rodrigo Giménez Uriburu, Andrés Basso and Jorge Gorini, will only announce the verdict (not guilty or guilty, and in the latter case, what sentence) but not yet the grounds for their decision. The judges have a period of 40 working days to make their ruling known, which – taking into account the proximity of the January judicial holiday – stretches the deadline to the first quarter of next year.
"The verdict will have a strong political impact," said political analyst Rosendo Fraga of the University of Buenos Aires. However, if found guilty, "the chances of her being arrested for the sentence are non-existent."
The vice-president is accused of having favoured business tycoon Lázaro Báez in awarding tenders for public works projects in her stronghold province of Santa Cruz during her time as head of state.
In total, 13 people are charged with two crimes: illicit association and fraudulent administration to the detriment of the public administration.
The period investigated includes Fernández de Kirchner's eight years in office, from 2007 to 2015, and the preceding four years when her late husband Néstor Kirchner, who died in 2010, was president.
Among the 12 other defendants are former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, former Public Works secretary José López and Báez himself.
Beginning in May 2019, the same month in which the former two-term head of state announced the presidential ticket headed by current President Alberto Fernández, this trial has so far loomed over her entire vice-presidency. More than 1,000 hours of hearings have taken place to date.
Protected by her privileges as Argentina’s deputy leader and head of the Senate, Fernández de Kirchner cannot be detained ahead of her sentence being confirmed by the Supreme Court, a process which could take up to six years or more, said Fraga.
Argentina holds general elections in 2023, and the political veteran can still run for any elective office.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Diego Luciani, denounced what he called "a system of institutional corruption" and "probably the largest corruption operation" in the country, with "systematic irregularities in 51 calls for tenders" over 12 years.
Fernández de Kirchner argues the charges are all a lie made up by her political enemies, part of a campaign of “lawfare” waged against her to reduce her influence.
"This court has been a true firing squad," the veteran politician said during her final address to the chamber, accusing prosecutors of having "dedicated themselves to disrespecting and insulting me."
All eyes will be on potential protests if she is found guilty. When prosecutors announced they were seeking a 12-year jail term in late August, mass daily demonstrations took place outside Fernández de Kirchner's apartment building in the upmarket suburb of Recoleta.
During one of these protests on September 1, a man emerged from a crowd of supporters, pointed a revolver in her face and pulled the trigger – but the gun did not fire.
Four people have been charged with involvement in the attack.