Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner on Tuesday accused the court trying her for alleged corruption dating back to her two presidential terms of being a "firing squad," as she delivered her final arguments before a verdict is due.
The former president, 69, is accused of fraudulently awarding public works contracts in her stronghold in Patagonia during two terms as president, and prosecutors want her jailed for 12 years and barred from holding public office for life.
One hearing remains in the trial, on December 6, the same day a verdict is expected, though judges technically have up to 10 days to rule.
"More than a 'lawfare' tribunal, this court was a real firing squad that began with the incredible tirade of prosecutors Diego Luciani and Sergio Mola, who dedicated themselves to insulting and slandering me," said the veteran politician, referring to her claims that she is a victim of political and judicial persecution.
"They defamed, lied and denigrated me and our government," she insisted, declaring that the trial is intended to “discipline” sectors of her “political space.”
Argentina’s 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.
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.
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 several years.
Earlier in the trial, Luciani told trial judges Rodrigo Giménez Uriburu, Jorge Gorini, Andrés Basso that they were investigating "probably the biggest corruption operation the country has known."
‘Slandered, lied, insulted’
Fernández de Kirchner spoke for 20 minutes on Tuesday morning, broadcast live from her Senate office. She repeated accusations that the prosecution had "invented and misrepresented" facts that she said had been shown to be false.
"They slandered, lied, and insulted me and our government," said the Kirchnerite leader.
She asked in another part of her speech: "Do you really believe that our government committed fraud to the detriment of the public administration? We handed over a country without debt and the living conditions of the people were much better than they are today."
Fernández de Kirchner considers the trial to be evidence of “political persecution” and has denounced that the courts, whom she calls the “judicial party,” wants to see her “jailed or dead.”
The trial is progressing at the same time a separate case is underway probing the unsuccessful assassination attempt against the vice-president on September 1.
Mass daily protests had erupted outside the vice-president’s apartment building in the upmarket City suburb of Recoleta in late August in response to the prosecutor's sentencing request for 12 years behind bars and a lifetime political ban.
During one of those rallies, as Fernández de Kirchner was arriving to her flat, an attacker shoved a revolver in her face and pulled the trigger twice. The gun, however, did not go off.
The assailant came so close by mingling among the dozens of sympathisers waiting to express their support in the face of the prosecution charges.
Three people have been charged with attempted murder in the case: the attacker, his girlfriend and the alleged leader of the ‘los copitos’ gang thought to be behind the attack. Fernández de Kirchner has called for the judge overseeing the case to be recused on grounds of “impartiality” and insists further alleged political connections should be fully investigated.
In her address,Fernández de Kirchner sought to link the attack on her with the ongoing trial, claiming that Brenda Uliarte, the girlfriend of the assailant Fernando Sabag Montiel, was a follower of Luciani on Facebook and Twitter.
On Tuesday, around a dozen protesters gathered outside the entrance to the court building where proceedings were underway, while a handful of supporters met by the Senate gates to cheer and chant for Fernández de Kirchner.
"Whatever the verdict is, for me she is innocent. I will be supporting my candidate. We are not going to let them put her in jail," said Graciela Nadal, an administrative employee who had come down to Congress to show her support.
"We are here supporting the independent and courageous prosecutors," said Carmen Terrero, 65, one of the few pro-opposition anti-Kirchnerite demonstrators who stood outside the federal courthouse. "We have been waiting for a long time for a conviction for those who have stolen our future."