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ARGENTINA | 21-05-2019 09:00

CFK calls corruption trial 'a smokescreen' as she prepares to sit in the dock

Former president lashes out in anger ahead of lunchtime court date. Unidad Ciudadana leader faces allegations she favoured businessman Lázaro Baez in the attribution of 52 public works contracts worth around US$1.2 billion during her 2007-2015 presidency.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner lashed out this morning on the eve on the beginning of the first corruption trial against her, declaring she should never have been called to the court.

The first corruption trial against the former president, known as 'Causa Vialidad,' will begin today at around midday – and it probably will not be the last trial she faces either, with a dozen other cases investigating alleged wrongdoing progressing in the courts.

"In a few hours, there will begin in Comodoro Py an oral trial in which I should never have been cited. This is a new act of persecution with a single objective: to place a former president opposed to this government in the dock, in the middle of the presidential campaign," Fernández de Kirchner posted on Twitter this morning, beginning a long thread of objections.

"The 'evidence' for which I stand accused are the National Budget laws, approved by both chambers of the National Congress, the DNU of budgetary adjustments for the whole public administration and administrative decisions dictated by the heads of Cabinet," she added.

"Trials must seek the truth. But it doesn't look like this is going to happen here," she wrote.

The former president – who announced this Saturday she will run for the vice-presidency, partnering with ex-Cabinet chief Alberto Fernández on a ticket in October's presidential election – considers that the cases against her are "political persecution," led by President Mauricio Macri's administration and a unfair Judiciary.

"Clearly this is not about doing justice. It's just putting together a new smokescreen that aims to distract Argentines and Argentina of the dramatic situation that our country and our people live," she declared.

Symbolic

The case is highly symbolic, not only because it will be the first to put the former president in the dock, but also because it was the first investigation to produce enough evidence to lead to corruption charges against the senator for Buenos Aires Province.

It involves allegations that Fernández de Kirchner favoured businessman Lázaro Baez in the attribution of 52 public works contracts during her 2007-2015 presidency, with millions of dollars skimmed off the side in bribery and kickbacks. Baez won nearly every public works tender in Santa Cruz Province – a Kirchnerite stronghold – during the presidencies of Fernández de Kirchner and Néstor Kirchner, the Unidad Ciudadana leader's late husband.

According to prosecutors, numerous works were paid for, even though they were not finished. Investigators also say the price of the projects were overvalued.

"It was an armed machine to defraud the Argentines, it started in the Federal Planning Ministry – where Julio De Vido was in charge – and everything was planned so that the money, instead of [being used for public] works, went to the pockets of the Austral [Construcciones] group owned by Báez," said Javier Iguacel, the former energy secretary and ex-head of Vialidad, the public body that oversees national motorway routes in Argentina.

Iguacel is a plaintiff in the case.

A total of 13 people will be in the dock, though most eyes will be focused on the Fernández de Kirchner. Other iconic Kirchnerite figures who will be present in court include Lázaro Báez, ex-Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido and disgraced ex-Public Works secretary José López.

López is infamous in Argentina for a June 2016 incident, when he was arrested while trying to hide bags containing some US$9 million in a convent for nuns on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Speaking over the weekend, Fernández de Kirchner's lawyer, Gregorio Dalbón told AFP that "the cases have been armed by the AFI [Federal Intelligence Agency]," alleging that many of the witnesses due to be called had been persuaded to testify through threats.

"It is political, media and judicial persecution that will end up in nothing because there is no crime," Dalbón added

According to Dalbón, Cristina "had no constitutional possibility of deciding, choosing, directing to whom a tender is going." 

Aníbal Fernández, a former Cabinet chief to Fernández de Kirchner, said "Argentine society knows it's all an invention."

Midday start

The trial is due to begin midday Tuesday at Oral Criminal Court No. 2.

The 66-year-old former president must attend the first day of the trial, which is expected to last a year. She does not have to attend other days, though she must be present for a reading of the allegations and the delivery of a verdict, as the close of events.

Around 160 witnesses are expected to testify in the trial, including businessmen Carlos Wagner, Enrique Eskenazi, Eduardo Eurnekian and Ángelo Calcaterra, the cousin of President Mauricio Macri. The Unidad Ciudadana leader’s defence team has also called politicians including Alberto Fernández, Sergio Massa, Aníbal Fernández, Juan Manuel Abal Medina and Jorge Capitanich.

The plaintiffs, the Judicial Information Centre confirmed Thursday, are the Public Prosecutor’s Office (headed by prosecutor Diego Luciani), the Anti-Corruption Office and the Financial Information Unit (UIF).

Implicated in more than 10 corruption investigations, this is the first such case against the former president to reach court.

Of the other investigations in which she has been implicated, the highest-profile is the so-called ‘cuadernos’ corruption notebooks scandal. It revolves around the meticulous records kept by a ex-government chauffeur, Oscar Centeno, of cash bribes – allegedly worth US$160 million between 2005 and 2015 – he is said to have delivered from businessmen to government officials.

Now a senator for Buenos Aires Province, Kirchner is protected from pre-trial detention due to her partial parliamentary immunity, which protects her from imprisonment but not prosecution.

- TIMES/AFP

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