Máximo Kirchner, national deputy and eldest son of former presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, appeared in court this morning to testify in the so-called ‘notebooks’ corruption case, probing the alleged payments of million of dollars in bribes and kickbacks siphoned off from public works projects.
At around 11am local time, Kirchner appeared with his lawyer Carlos Beraldi at Comodoro Py courthouse in Buenos Aires. The entire fourth floor was shut down on Judge Claudio Bonadio’s orders, with mobile phones and recording devices forbidden from the area.
Refusing to answer questions, the Unión por Todos deputy presented a letter alleging the case was risen "irregularities, illegality and criminal activities.” It questioned Bonadio’s jurisdiction over the case, the actions of Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli and denounced the alleged lack of evidence against the lawmaker.
“There is no evidentiary element that even remotely justifies my subpoena,” it read.
López, a former public works secretary, alleges that the national lawmaker received payments from businessman via briefcases.
In his appearance before Bonadio, Máximo Kirchner expressed doubts over the veracity of López’s claims and asked he be allowed to review video footage of the whistleblower’s testimony, as well as others who had accused him of criminal wrongdoing.
As a lawmaker in the lower chamber of Congress, Kirchner is protected by congressional immunity from imprisonment, although not from prosecution.
Kirchner's mother, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, is accused of having headed the alleged “illicit association” through which tens of millions of dollars in bribes were paid. She has already been called in for questioning twice by Bonadio, the judge leading the wide-ranging corruption investigation.
However, like her son, she is also a lawmaker (currently a sitting senator for Buenos Aires Province), meaning she too benefits from congressional immuinity. Senators would have to vote to strip her of that benefit, before her arrest could proceed. If such a decision is not taken, she would not be jailed, even if found guilty.
Analysts see such a move as unlikely. However, in August the Senate did vote to partially lift her immunity so that investigators could search her three luxury homes, a move that Fernández de Kirchner backed as well.
Three Kirchner family residences – a department in Buenos Aires and their houses of Río Gallegos and El Calafate, in Patagonia – were raided with authorisation from the Senate.
Fernández de Kirchner, 65, is under investigation in seven corruption cases in total, though she claims she is the victim of "judicial persecutions" aimed at derailing her bid to run for a third presidential term in next year's elections.
Both Fernández de Kirchner, 65, and Néstor Kirchner, whom she succeeded as president in 2007, are suspected of having accepted millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen. According to the investigation, bribes were delivered by a ministerial chauffeur to various locations, including the Kirchners' private residences over a 10-year period.
Stornelli has said a total of US$160 million in bribes may have been stolen between 2005 and 2015.
At her last court appearance, Fernández de Kirchner stressed her "categorical and strict denial" that she "committed any crime" or was involved in "any illicit activity." Also facing trial in several other corruption cases, she has previously accused Bonadio of carrying out "judicial persecutions" aimed at derailing a possible presidential run next year.