Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suffered a double judicial setback on Monday when the nation’s highest criminal court revoked 2021 rulings clearing her of charges in two high-profile legal cases.
Fernández de Kirchner, 70, now faces the prospect of standing trial over allegations she oversaw a massive corruption and money-laundering scheme centred around hotels owned by her family during her two terms in office as president and accusations related to the signing of a controversial memorandum with Iran by her government.
In two explosive rulings, Argentina’s Federal Criminal Cassation Chamber on Monday revoked the previous dismissal of charges against the vice-president, along with other defendants, including her son Máximo Kirchner, in the so-called ‘Hotesur-Los Sauces’ graft case and overturned dismissals for the former president and several former government officials over allegations they attempted to cover up the crimes of the perpetrators of the 1994 AMIA Jewish community centre bombing which left 85 people dead.
In both cases, the court ordered oral trial proceedings be held. In addition, Judges Daniel Petrone and Diego Barroetaveña decided to remove the oral court judges who dismissed the charges against the vice-president in the Hotesur-Los Sauces case, Daniel Obligado and Adrián Grünberg. Adriana Palliotti, who had voted in dissent, was not removed. In the trial for the pact with Iran, Petrone and Barroetaveña also dismissed Judges Obligado, José Michilini and Gabriela López Iñiguez.
The resolutions can be appealed up to the Supreme Court and that is likely to happen. Fernández de Kirchner has been charged in several corruption cases in recent years and she claims she is a campaign of political and judicial persecution.
After being cleared in several cases, she was sentenced last December to six years in prison, from which she is protected by immunity, and to a lifetime ban from holding political office in a trial for fraud and corruption in a case involving the alleged fraudulent awarding of public works contracts during her 2007-2015 spell as head of state.
Fernández de Kirchner has not commented publicly on her latest judicial reverse. She is due to make a speech at the Universidad Metropolitana para la Educación y el Trabajo this Saturday.
Fernández de Kircher’s two children, Máximo and Florencia, had also been indicted in the ‘Hotesur-Los Sauces’ case, a unified investigation which brought together two probes looking into alleged overpricing in public works tenders in Santa Cruz, the Kirchner family’s home province, and the alleged payment of bribes via fake room reservations at Kirchner family hotels.
Prosecutors allege that the hotels were used as vehicles for kickbacks for multi-million-dollar contracts awarded to Lázaro Báez, a business ally who in turn paid massive hotel bills for rooms which were never occupied. Fabián De Sousa, Cristóbal López, Lázaro Báez, Martín Báez, Osvaldo San Felipe and Alberto Leiva were also among the defendants.
Fernández de Kirchner has to date evaded prosecution from both investigations. In November 2021 a ruling by Federal Oral Tribunal 5 – the court which was due to put her on trial – unexpectedly acquitted the vice-president and her children. TOF 5 held that it was clear that there had been no crime and that, therefore, there was no need for a trial to take place.
Monday's decision by the new court upholds a previous ruling that the former president's daughter be excluded on the grounds that she was a minor when the companies involved in the investigation were founded.
The Federal Criminal Cassation Chamber also ordered an oral trial be held in the case of the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, in which the former president is accused of attempting to cover up the perpetrators of the AMIA bombing.
A previous court had ruled that Fernández Kirchner and the rest of the defendants in these two cases should be acquitted as no crime had taken place. The court said at the time: "Regardless of whether it is considered a political success or a political mistake, it did not constitute a crime or an act of cover-up.”
A victims’ families’ association and the DAIA Jewish organisation appealed the ruling: they demanded that the trial be held and this new ruling backs that claim.
The decision affects Fernández de Kirchner, Eduardo Antonio Zuain, Carlos Alberto Zannini, Oscar Isidro Parrilli, Angelina María Esther Abbona, Juan Martín Mena, Andrés Larroque, Luis Ángel D'Elía, Fernando Esteche, Jorge Alejandro Khalil and Ramón Héctor Allan Bogado.
This case began in January 2015 with the complaint filed by late special prosecutor Alberto Nisman. He argued that the signing of the memorandum between Argentina and Iran sought to cover up the role of those accused of organising and executing the AMIA bombing by allegedly ordering the dropping of Interpol red alerts for their arrest. The terrorist bombing left 85 people dead and more than 300 wounded.
Federal Oral Court 8 in October 2021 acquitted all the defendants on the grounds of non-existence of a crime.
"The Memorandum, regardless of whether it is considered a political success or failure, did not constitute a crime," ruled judges Gabriela López Iñiguez, José Michilini and Daniel Obligado in that ruling.
Two of the three cassation court judges ruled to remove the magistrates leading the case, the other dissented.