Monday, December 9, 2019
Perfil

ARGENTINA | 02-12-2019 18:21

Fernández de Kirchner angrily denies graft claims as she testifies in court

Former president made an unusual detour Monday on her way back to office, appearing in court to defend herself angrily against corruption charges stemming from her time in office.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appeared in court Monday for almost four hours, as she gave evidence in a corruption trial in which she is charged with diverting public funds.

The former head of state, who becomes vice president in just over a week, is charged with heading a criminal association that defrauded the government by illegally granting public works projects in the southern province on Santa Cruz during her 2007-2015 presidency.

Fernández de Kirchner angrily denounced the accusations as political persecution and blamed the outgoing administration of President Mauricio Macri, often raising her voice. It was the first time she spoke in her own defence and the first opportunity for the tribunal to ask the soon-to-be vice president the chance questions. 

“History has absolved me, and history is going to absolve me,” she told the three judges. “History will condemn you.”

She went on to tell the judges that she was not going to answer questions because “it is you who have to answer questions.”

Her lawyers petitioned the court to allow her testimony to be televised, but the judge refused, which they later claimed as further evidence of a "systemic plan" to undermine her credibility. 

'Demonise and destroy'

The former president's line of attack began earlier in the day. Ahead of her arrival at the Comodoro Py federal courthouse in Retiro, she took to Twitter, denouncing a joint effort by the "homogeneous" press and the "judicial apparatus" to "demonise and destroy popular and democratic leaders."  

The former president, 66, smiled and waved to the group of banner-waving supporters awaiting her at the Comodoro Py federal courthouse in the capital, but declined to give any statements to the press. 

Inside court, however, Fernández de Kirchner wasn't so happy, angrily lashing out at President Mauricio Macri, his government and federal judges. She was strident in denying the allegations, accusing the outgoing government of "politically persecuting" her and her family and calling any arguments against her "weak." 

Her statement were echoed by her lawyer, Carlos Beraldi. He insisted "there was no judicial reason" for her being present in the courtrooms, and that the evidence would soon point to her innocence. 

Fernández de Kirchner had arrived at the courthouse at around 9.30am. The session continued for four hours, during which she read from a pre-written statement and refused to take questions afterwards. Instead, she turned the moment back around on the three-judge panel, calling on them to answer for their actions, not her. 

Throughout her testimony, she fiercely maintained her innocence, going as far as to say say she and Lázaro Báez — the Kirchnerite businessman she's accused of having favoured in the awarding 52 public works contracts worth around 46 billion pesos (US$1.2 billion) during her presidency and that of her late husband Nestor Kirchner — aren't friends.

"We never were," she added. 

Among the defendants are former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, former Public Works secretary José López and ex-officials with the national roads agency.

'LAWFARE' DEFENCE

Clearly angered by the necessity to appear before the judges, the former president repeatedly relied on the "lawfare" defence, a theory cited by many progressive populist leaders who say they are the innocent victims of corruption trials. 

"The sentence is already written," she said, suggesting a fair trial before the court was impossible.

Later, in her discourse, the vice president-elect redirected attention towards her running-mate, Alberto Fernández.

"The one responsible for administrative and criminal material is the Cabinet chief because he's in charge of the budget," she said pointedly. 

"You're going to have a problem because you're going to have to cite the President of the Republic," she said, referring to the president-elect who served as Cabinet chief to  Nestór Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner before resigning in 2008.

With regards to her alleged role as the "supposed head of four illicit organisations," Fernández de Kirchner employed sarcasm.

"I don't know how I had time to govern because I was running so many of these illicit organisations," she posited ironically. 

The trial probing public works projects, Fernández de Kirchner said, was created by Mauricio Macri's government "with the help of the Judiciary," painting herself as the victim of a sweeping conspiracy and implicating a litany of government agencies and individuals in the alleged planning. 

She even referred to the dispute over the controversial 2015 handover ceremony (in which she and President Macri did not formally hand over the trimmings of office to each other), blaming authorities as responsible for the dispute.

IMMUNITY

This trial is one of eight separate cases in which Fernández de Kirchner faces charges. If found guilty, she could face a sentence of up to 15 years.

A major question has been the issue of immunity. Argentina's Constitution prohibits the arrest of any lawmaker unless he or she is caught in the middle of committing a crime. That law was further refined in 2000, with an addendum saying that while a lawmaker couldn't be imprisoned, they could go through the rest of the judicial process. 

Fernández de Kirchner, who has served as a senator for Buenos Aires Province since the 2017 midterms, enjoys protection under the legislation. But there are several outstanding requests that she be detained as an exception to the rule. Her immunity as a senator has continued to safeguard her from being placed behind bars since it can only be lifted an unlikely two-thirds vote in the Senate.

Her new post as vice-president also enjoys immunity. 

The ex-president also faces four other legal processes for alleged crimes committed during her presidency whose start dates have not been set and five detention requests that have stalled because as a senator she has immunity from arrest, though not from prosecution.

This first process began in May while she was campaigning. She said at the time that she was “going to prove the imputation is false."

– AFP/PERFIL/TIMES

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