Argentinian judge dismisses corruption case against VP Kirchner

Argentinian judge dismisses corruption case against VP Kirchner

05 May 2023 ( Aljazeera )

A judge in Argentina has dismissed a long-running money laundering case against Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, after prosecutors and state agencies said there was no evidence she was involved in a crime.

Federal Judge Sebastian Casanello ruled on Monday that Fernandez de Kirchner should be removed from what had become known as the “K money trail” case. It involved alleged kickbacks and money laundering by businessman Lazaro Baez on behalf of Fernandez de Kirchner’s family.

Prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan said late last month there was no evidence that Fernandez de Kirchner was involved in the corruption for which Baez has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

This marks the latest instance in which the vice president — who was also president from 2007 to 2015 — has been dismissed from an ongoing corruption-related case before it reaches trial.

The former president was sentenced to six years in prison in December in a separate case for fraudulent administration, which included a lifetime ban on holding public office.

In that instance, Fernandez de Kirchner was found to have favoured Baez in the awarding of public works contracts. Baez was sentenced to six years in prison as part of that case, which was unrelated to the “K money trail”.

The vice president’s conviction can still be appealed and reviewed by higher courts, a process that could take years. In the meantime, she remains immune from arrest and the penalties of her conviction while she remains in her government role as vice president. Argentina is slated to hold general elections in October.

The judge’s decision on Monday came as surveys show Argentinians have a general distrust of the justice system, which is often slow and takes years to resolve cases.

“The Argentine justice system is infiltrated by politics,” said Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a political consulting firm. “The federal courts are absolutely influenced by political interests from both sides.”

That means supporters of the vice president are likely to see the dismissal as vindication of her long-held claims of innocence, while her opponents will cite it as an example of how she got away with wrongdoing.

Baez was a close associate of both Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007. The case began with allegations that Baez was paid for public works contracts that were never completed and that he then laundered the money on behalf of Kirchner and his wife.

Argentina’s tax agency and the anti-money-laundering agency also agreed that Fernandez de Kirchner, who remains politically powerful, should be removed from the case dating back to 2013.

“Without an accusation, there is no possibility of a criminal process,” Casanello wrote in his resolution.

Marijuan, the prosecutor, has said that while it is clear there was a “close and direct personal relationship” between Baez and the vice president, that does not mean she was involved in the money laundering of an estimated $65m.

To demonstrate their relationship, Marijuan detailed that an investigation had found “at least 372 telephone contacts” between Baez and Fernandez de Kirchner and her secretaries, showing “they were more than mere acquaintances from Santa Cruz and had a close connection”.

Baez was the owner of Austral Construcciones, one of the main companies favoured with public works contracts during the tenure of Fernandez de Kirchner’s administration as well as that of her late husband.

In an interview late last month, Marijuan said that he did not find any “proof that links Cristina Fernandez to this case”.

Analysts tied Marijuan’s decision to an alleged friendship with Economy Minister Sergio Massa, widely seen as a possible presidential contender for the October election, Romero said.

President Alberto Fernandez and current Vice President Fernandez de Kirchner — they are not related — have already said they will not be running for the presidency again, and there is general uncertainty over who will be the candidate for the ruling coalition.

Fernandez de Kirchner, who has long criticised the country’s justice system as corrupt, once faced numerous criminal cases. But those have slowly been dissipating as judges rule there is not enough evidence to hold the vice president accountable, although those decisions are still subject to review by higher courts.

A court in 2021 dismissed a case against Fernandez de Kirchner that accused her of conspiring with Iran to cover up Tehran’s alleged involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires.

That same year, a court dismissed a case that accused the vice president and her family of benefitting from a money laundering operation involving hotel rooms and real estate. Earlier, a case that had accused her of carrying out fraudulent operations through the dollar futures market was also dismissed.

The vice president is also facing accusations of wrongdoing in a separate case that claims she headed up a corruption network to award public works contracts during her administration.