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ARGENTINA | 26-02-2024 20:22

Court hears duelling appeals in Fernández de Kirchner graft case

Court begins hearing duelling appeals – prosecutors seek doubling of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's six-year jail term for graft in 'Vialidad' case, while former president's legal team asks for acquittal.

A court in Buenos Aires on Monday started hearing simultaneous appeals against the graft conviction and six-year sentence pronounced against ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for irregular public works contracts awarded on her watch.

The prosecution is seeking a doubling of her six-year prison sentence and the reversal of her acquittal on an additional charge of criminal association. 

Fernández de Kirchner, 70, wants the court to throw out her conviction altogether.

The defence is expected to present its case on March 7 in hearings at the Comodoro Py federal courthouse programmed to run until April 4.

A ruling is expected within weeks. The judges leading the court – Mariano Borinsky, Diego Barroetaveña and Gustavo Hornos – will have 20 working days to decide whether to confirm, revoke or aggravate the sentence.

Adored and reviled in equal measure by millions of Argentines, Fernández de Kirchner was found guilty in December 2022 of "fraudulent administration" during her time as president between 2007 and 2015.

The court banned Fernández de Kirchner – also a former first lady and former vice-president – from public office after a trial she dismissed as a political witch hunt. However, that decision and the six-year jail term has not been confirmed.

Fernández de Kirchner was charged with 12 others for involvement in fraud with public works contracts in her political fiefdom of southern Santa Cruz Province.

The period investigated includes her eight years in office and the preceding four years when her late husband Néstor Kirchner, who died in 2010, was president.

During the trial, the prosecutor denounced what he called "a system of institutional corruption" and "probably the largest corruption operation" in the country, with "systematic irregularities in 51 calls for tenders" over 12 years.

"There was a real criminal association. It was not the state that committed crimes, it was people who were officials," said prosecutor Mario Villa on Monday at the beginning of the hearing.

Eight of Fernández de Kirchner's co-accused were found guilty and sentenced to between three and six-and-a-half years in jail. 

Only one of the defendants was present at Monday’s hearing, Abel Fatala, a former public works undersecretary in Fernández de Kirchner’s government. The former president did not attend.

If the appeal goes against her, the former vice-president is not expected to head to jail any time soon, as she still has other legal avenues left, including the Supreme Court.

Last year, when she was serving as vice-president, Fernández de Kirchner announced she would not seek election to the presidency or other high office again and would instead prove her innocence.

To her working-class base, Fernández de Kirchner and her husband were saviours after Argentina's 2001 economic meltdown and the social unrest that followed the largest debt default in history.

Her detractors see her as a corrupt, overbearing interventionist who steered the country back toward economic ruin through debt-fuelled spending sprees.

She is also the target of several other investigations for alleged money-laundering and obstruction of justice.

Fernández de Kirchner denies the allegations and says she is a victim of a campaign of judicial and political persecution.


– TIMES/AFP/NA

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