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ARGENTINA | 05-09-2022 12:24

Public works graft trial resumes, just four days after failed attack on vice-president

Trial investigating alleged corruption involving Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and 12 others resumes with defence arguments, just four days after shocking failed shooting attack on vice-president.

The trial investigating alleged corruption involving Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and 12 others resumed on Monday with the start of defence arguments, the last stage of the trial before a verdict is issued.

Fernández de Kirchner, 69, is accused of heading an illicit association that defrauded the state in the tendering of 51 public works projects in the southern province of Santa Cruz when she served as president (2007-2015).

Prosecutors last week asked that Fernández de Kirchner be banned from holding public office and be handed a prison sentence of 12 years. 

With Argentina still in shock after the failed shooting attempt on Fernández de Kirchner last Thursday, from which the Senate chief escaped unharmed last week, the court opened proceedings by hearing from the defence team representing the former head of the Santa Cruz provincial road system, Héctor Garro.

His defence lawyers said that the accusations against Garro contain "logical flaws and leaps in reasoning” and argued that the same case had already been investigated and closed in Kirchner's fiefdom, Santa Cruz province.

In a federal system such as Argentina's, the current trial constitutes "interference in local government, in the provincial constitution, causing irreparable damage to the federal system," argued attorney Mariano Fragueiro Frias.


CFK's defence

The former president's defence team is expected to argue its case towards the end of September – this stage of the trial is proceeding by alphabetical order – and a verdict is expected before the end of the year. Each defendant has three hearings to present their arguments, although some have announced that they will only use one.

Fernández de Kirchner denies any wrongdoing. She is implicated in four separate proceedings for laundering and speculative damage to the state, amongst other charges. She has accused investigators of waging a "legal war" against her that is orchestrated by the right-wing opposition.

The trial is investigating alleged criminality in the awarding and execution of public works projects in Santa Cruz that were overseen by businessman Lázaro Báez between 2003 and 2015, a period that also covers the government of Fernández de Kirchner’s late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner.

Defence lawyers, as in the case of Garro, can attend this stage of the trial in-person at the court in Buenos Aires, though the majority of proceedings have been held via videoconference software.

The 'Vialidad' trial is resuming just four days after Fernández de Kirchner was attacked on September 1 by a man who fired a gun just inches from her face. Despite the perpetrator pulling the trigger twice,  the weapon failed to go off.

The attacker, identified as 35-year-old Brazilian national Fernando Sabag Montiel, managed to mix prior to the attack with Fernández de Kirchner's supporters, who have been demonstrating daily outside her home in the wealthy City neighbourhood of Reloleta since the prosecutor's office called for her conviction.

Sabag Montiel was arrested on the spot but so far has refused to offer testimony. Last Sunday his girlfriend was detained by police.

The assassination attempt was immediately repudiated by the country’s main political leaders and the next day a huge demonstration was held in support of the former president and in rejection of political violence.

However, the clashes between the ruling party and the opposition persist. On Saturday a tense session was held in the Chamber of Deputies in which lawmakers condemned the attack in a statement, but many opposition deputies quickly withdrew from the lower house after agreeing to its wording.

On Sunday, former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), who succeeded Fernández de Kirchner in office, criticised the government’s reaction to the tragedy, accusing the ruling coalition of using the attack for political gain and to target their “enemies” in the justice system and the press.



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