The so-called ‘Vialidad’ graft trial involving Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is accused of corruption alongside 12 co-defendants, entered its final phase last Monday with a verdict expected before the year is out.
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.
In Monday’s hearing, trial prosecutors Diego Luciani and Sergio Mola rejected the defence latest pleas to quash the trial without making use of their right to reply which lengthens proceedings.
"The charges speak for themselves. There is nothing for us to answer," declared Luciani.
The court nevertheless agreed to a further Friday hearing at the request of one of the defence lawyers before establishing a timetable for the final arguments of the accused.
Vice-President Fernández de Kirchner, 69, responded to the prosecutors with a message in her social networks referring to previous interventions from her lawyer Carlos Berardi. They contained, according to her, "the legal and factual refutation of each and every one of the lies presented by the prosecutors Luciani and Mola."
The Frente de Todos leader denies the allegations against her and claims she is a victim of “political and judicial persecution.”
Verdict and candidacies
The court decision will fall in times of speculation about the candidacies for next year’s general elections.
"Since this is a trial of the first, not defining instance, the trial’s impact is to be measured more in media than electoral terms," said political analyst Carlos Fara, regarding the upcoming 2023 elections for which Fernández de Kirchner, who heads the left wing of the ruling Peronist coalition, has not yet revealed her intentions.
“The conviction of guilt which most of society already has and the generalised idea that all politicians are more or less corrupt takes away a bit of the impact,” added Fara.
Protected by her privileges as vice-president 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.
She 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 2007-2015 presidency.
The prosecution is requesting that she be sentenced to 12 years in prison and barred from public office for life.
Fernández de Kirchner considers this trial to be clear evidence of political persecution and has denounced that the courts, whom she calls the “judicial party,” wants to see her “jailed or dead” – a reference to a failed assassination attack against her back in September.
Among the 12 other defendants are former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, former Public Works secretary José López and Báez himself.
In the course of the trial the court has listened to 114 witnesses in 117 hearings.
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. As Fernández de Kirchner was arriving at her flat in Buenos Aires, an attacker pulled the trigger on a pistol very close to her head. The gun, however, did not go off.
The assailant came so close by mingling among dozens of sympathisers awaiting her every night to express their support in the face of the prosecution charges.
In court on Monday, Luciani requested the rejection of defence appeals from some of the co-defendants calling for the public works fraud trial to be quashed.
The prosecutor spoke in reply to Báez, for whom Luciani is also requesting a 12-year sentence.
The tycoon’s lawyer was objecting to the incorporation of evidence obtained from bugging the telephone of López within the investigation into the latter for illegal enrichment.
In the eyes of the prosecutor, the defence lawyer of Báez seeks to “censor” the prosecution, “which was always transparent,” acting “with legal and transparent evidence.”
“This cannot be interpreted as surprising or a lack of fair play,” warned the prosecution showing documentation that it had already asked for this evidence to be taken into account in September, 2021.
The prosecution further anticipated that it would not be making use of its right to reply to any defence plea, thus leapfrogging a stage and accelerating the verdict.
The pleas for the nullification of evidence presented by prosecutor Luciani total nine.
The next step would be the “last words” of the 13 accused, who will have the right to speak to the judges before they retire to deliberate and announce their verdict. According to what has been leaked by the defence lawyers, all 13 of them are planning to speak. These hearings will be in the same order as those presenting the arguments for the defence.