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ARGENTINA | 25-02-2019 15:33

Fernandez de Kirchner proclaims innocence in third appearance before Bonadio

Former president denounces 'persecution and cruelty' by 'totalitarian' government, refuses to answer questions as she made her third appearance before the federal judge as part of the 'notebooks' corruption probe.

Former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner protested her innocence in writing before Claudio Bonadio today, yet refused to answer questions as she made her third appearance before the federal judge as part of the 'cuadernos' ("notebooks") corruption probe.

Fernandez de Kirchner, 66, refused to answer the judge's questions but submitted several written statements, criticising the charges against her as political persecution.

The ex-president, who governed Argentina for two terms beginning in 2007, stands accused of accepting tens of millions of dollars' worth of bribes and of heading a criminal "illicit association" that oversaw a corruption ring centred on public works projects.

Before entering the court in Buenos Aires, Kirchner posted several messages on social media in which she reiterated her claim to be the victim of "persecution and cruelty that only totalitarian governments dared to pursue at a time when the rule of law was suspended."

Fernández de Kirchner remains one of the most popular figure of Argentina's fragmented opposition, with an election due in October. She has yet to indicate if she will run for president again, this time against Macri. The polls, however, say she is the best-placed opposition figure to challenge the Cambiemos (Let's Change) leader in October's election.

Host of cases

This is one of eight cases brought against Fernandez de Kirchner by Judge Bonadio.

Now a sitting senator for Buenos Aires province, Fernández de Kirchner said, somewhat topically, that the multiple cases were "a type of continuous film. I have to admit that in cinematographic terms, this film deserves an Oscar for its originality."

"In most of the trials [against me], I am being investigated for being the presumed leader of the same illicit association that would have committed crimes between 2003 and 2015. The truth is that throughout that period I was only the head, together with Néstor Kirchner, of governments democratically elected by the Argentine people in three consecutive elections, whose main objective was to grant rights to the most neglected sectors of our society," she added.

The scandal revolves around meticulous records kept by a government chauffeur, Oscar Centeno, of cash bribes he claims to have delivered from businessmen to government officials.

Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has said a total of US$160 million in bribes was handed over between 2005 and 2015.

The former head of state was previously ordered to be held in pre-trial detention over the case but, benefitting from partial parliamentary immunity, she is protected from imprisonment although not from prosecution.

Fernandez de Kirchner said "a lot of causes have been armed" against her, in order to generate "news with a high media impact." She accused Prosecutor Stornelli and Judge Bonadio of committing "real criminal activities to try to invent evidence" against her. 

A large number of business figures have been called to testify in the case, including some of the nation's most powerful industry heavyweights, such as Paolo Rocca, leader of the multinational Techint, and the cousin and ex-business partner of the President Macri, Ángelo Calcaterra.

- TIMES/AFP

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