Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her two children, Florencia and Máximo, have been cleared in a case investigating alleged money-laundering, according to a ruling released on Friday.
Judges leading Federal Oral Court No. 5 (TOF5) ruled by a two-to-one majority to dismiss the case against the members of the Kirchner family, a decision also extended to six other defendants. They include Fabián De Sousa, Cristóbal López, Lázaro Báez, Martín Báez, Osvaldo San Felipe and Alberto Leiva
One of the three judges, Adriana Palliotti, voted to reject the defence team’s request for dismissal and to move forward with an oral trial.
The case, which brought together two probes known as ‘Hotesur’ and ‘Los Sauces,’ investigated alleged overpricing in public works tenders in Santa Cruz, the Kirchner family’s home province, and the alleged payment of bribes through fake room reservations at Kirchner family hotels.
Prosecutors alleged that the hotels were used as vehicles for kickbacks for contracts awarded to Lázaro Báez, a business ally who paid massive hotel bills for rooms which were never occupied.
The court found that the case lacked the grounds to be brought to trial. The decision can still be appealed before the Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation.
Days earlier, prosecutor Diego Velasco asked TOF-5 to reject the defence’s request for the dismissal of the charges and demanded that the oral trial be convened promptly. The defence team of the accused had asked for the case to be closed a month earlier.
Last year, Argentina’s Anti-Corruption Office (OA, in its Spanish acronym) withdrew as a plaintiff in the case, prompting an outcry in opposition circles.
It said that the monitoring of the case belonged more properly to the Unit of Financial Information (UIF, in its Spanish acronym), which specialises in money-laundering and that its mandate is to track present and future rather than past corruption.
The court, by two votes to one, considered Friday that the evidence gathered after the case was brought to trial, citing specifically an expert accounting report, had demonstrated that there was no damage and, consequently, no crime.
"Even though the importance of the investigations into crimes against public administration cannot be ignored, it cannot be ignored that they must always be prosecuted with the law in hand and in full compliance with it," the 375-page ruling states.
The 'Los Sauces' and 'Hotesur' cases were initially seen as two of the most complicated for the vice-president given that they directly involved her children, who would have also had to stand trial with her.
Fernández de Kirchner, 68, has been cleared in several probes looking into alleged crimes and corruption during her two presidential terms (2007-2015). The vice-president, who was elected on a ticket with President Alberto Fernández in 2019, still faces prosecution in another five cases.
This is the second time in just over a month that a court has dismissed criminal charges. The most recent was her acquittal in October from a case in which she was accused of seeking to cover-up the identities of the perpetrators of the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, an attack which left 85 dead and 300 wounded.
In that case, all the accused were also cleared, including the late former foreign minister Héctor Timerman.
Earlier this year, she was also cleared in the so-called ‘dollar futures’ case, in which she was accused of defrauding the government via sales in the dollar futures market.
The former president denies all the accusations against her and says she was a victim of “political persecution” by the previous government led by Mauricio Macri.