Thursday, July 18, 2024

ARGENTINA | 26-06-2024 12:14

Trial into attempted assassination of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner begins

Trial into 2022 assassination attempt of ex-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner gets underway in Buenos Aires; Fernando Sabag Montiel, Brenda Uliarte and Nicolás Carrizo are the accused in a trial set to feature more than 270 witnesses.

The trial into the attempted assassination of former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in September 2022 got underway on Wednesday morning with three defendants in the dock. 

Fernando Sabag Montiel, Brenda Uliarte and Nicolás Carrizo are being tried in the case for "attempted aggravated homicide" of the former head of state. 

The trio have been detained in custody at jails in Buenos Aires Province and were transported early Wednesday morning to a courtroom in the City neighbourhood of Retiro. 

Sabag Montiel and Uliarte travelled from Ezeiza prison, Carrizo from a jail in Marcos Paz. All came with large security details.

The first hearing began an hour late, during which the charges against the accused were read out for attempted aggravated homicide, a crime that carries penalties of up to 25 years.

On September 1, 2022, Sabag Montiel, armed with a pistol, mingled with a group of sympathisers in front of Fernández de Kirchner’s flat, approached her and just inches from the then vice-president’s face and pulled the trigger several times. 

The loaded gun did not fire, saving Argentina from the chaos that would have ensued after the assassination of one of its most prominent political figures. The failed murder attempt shocked society, breaking boundaries in a nation that suffered bloody political violence in the late 1970s and 1980s but has been a peaceful democracy ever since.

More than 270 witnesses have been summoned to testify by Tribunal Oral Federal Court No. 6 in Buenos Aires for the trial. The extensive list of witnesses includes political figures, security personnel, friends of the defendants, Fernández de Kirchner's entourage and experts from various fields.

Fernández de Kirchner, who is also a plaintiff in the case, will give evidence, as will members of her security team who were on duty on the night of the assassination attempt. 

The list also includes forensic experts, intelligence analysts and eyewitnesses who will provide crucial details about the events and alleged motivations behind the attack.

The trial focuses on the three accused – Sabag Montiel, the assailant; Uliarte, his ex-girlfriend; and Carrizo, their part-time employer. 

The would-be shooter, Sabag Montiel, a 37-year-old Brazilian citizen, and Uliarte, 25, are formally accused of being co-authors of "attempted homicide aggravated by premeditation, the action of two or more people and the use of a firearm."

Uliarte is accused as a “co-conspirator,” with her former partner considered the material author of the attempt. She accompanied him to the crime scene and allegedly incited the attack in text messages.

Carrizo, 27, who employed the couple as street-sellers, is indicted as "a necessary participant" or accomplice. He allegedly gave the assailant a gun to kill the vice-president, although the weapon was not the one used on the day of the attack.

In court on Wednesday, the charges against the accused were read out. Phone messages from the accused, featuring explicit references to the plan to kill Fernández de Kirchner, were also aired.

Sabag Montiel, who worked odd jobs such as ride-share driver and who sports tattoos of neo-Nazi symbols, wrote to Uliarte: "I'm going to go to Cristina's house with the gun and I'm going to shoot her."

After the attack, Carrizo boasted that Sabag Montiel was "one second away from being a national hero."

"They were fully aware of what they were doing and its possible consequences," according to the charge sheet.

Others initially arrested as part of an investigation into a so-called "Banda de los Copitos," a gang of street sellers of candy-floss who mixed with Sabag Montiel and Uliarte, were later released.

The group and its operations will come under close scrutiny during the trial, with key witnesses providing information about their activities and connections.


‘Incomplete’ investigation

The trial, however, will not deal with the alleged financiers or plotters of the attack, a decision that has angered Fernández de Kirchner.

The former president has asked that the alleged masterminds of the attack be probed fully, an investigation that currently forms part of a parallel case.

"The investigation is incomplete because we still need to know many things about the real motivations and whether there were other people involved," said Marcos Aldazábal, one of Fernández de Kirchner's lawyers.

The lawyer said it is "very important to know the background of how things happened," something that he hopes will come to light during court hearings that will take place every Wednesday in a trial that should last "between six months and a year."

Hearings will be held every Wednesday at the court in Retiro, under the supervision of Judges Sabrina Namer, Adrián Grunberg and Ignacio Fornari.

Prosecutor Gabriela Baigún will lead the case, backed by Fernández de Kirchner's lawyers, Aldazábal and José Manuel Ubeira.

Defence lawyers are expected to adopt a variety of strategies, from stating that Sabag Montiel is mentally incapable to face trial to claiming that Carrizo knew nothing about the attack in advance.

Sabag Montiel showed a "narcissistic" personality and an "extravagant" discourse with elements of hostility towards Fernández de Kirchner, according to experts cited in the casefile.

The failed shooting attack coincided with a major corruption case against Argentina’s former president, for which she was later sentenced to six years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding political office. 

Fernández de Kirchner denies the allegation and has appealed its verdict, attributing it to a campaign of “judicial and political” persecution against her.

The sentence has yet to be confirmed by a higher court, but a review into the conviction has begun, with the prosecution requesting that her sentence be doubled to 12 years.


Doubts and leads

The dramatic incident led to global condemnation, with Pope Francis calling Fernández de Kirchner a few hours after the attack.

However, there was also a blanket of suspicion about the veracity of the attack, which was later cleared up by experts who confirmed that the weapon was real, had bullets in the chamber and had misfired.

Amid the public condemnation, some of her political opponents and critics reacted with silence.

Fernández de Kirchner alleged a wider political plot, privately financed by her opponents, but the investigating judge did not follow some of the leads she wanted looked into.

Juntos por el Cambio ex-national deputy Gerardo Milman, who was allegedly overheard talking about the attack before it happened, is one of the figures she has identified as part of an alleged plot. 

Milman allegedly met up with two female aides in a café near Congress prior to the attack, telling them that he would be on the Atlantic coast “when they kill” the vice-president. An expert examination of Milman’s phone is still pending.

That and other lines of investigation, particularly about alleged financing leading to a company owned by family members related to Argentina’s current economy minister, Luis Caputo, were dismissed by the court.

They form part of a parallel investigation, which – despite a legal challenge from Fernández de Kirchner – has not been integrated into this trial.

"There is no clearer practice to seek impunity in complex cases than to break them into small pieces. What remains is never investigated again," Fernández de Kirchner said in an open letter published when judges closed the investigation and sent the case to trial.

"The entire investigation was characterised by avoiding knowing the truth," wrote the former president, who led Argentina from 2007 to 2015 and served as vice-president from 2019 to 2023.




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