BUENOS AIRES — A federal court on Tuesday found Vice President Christina Kirchner guilty of embezzling money through a public construction contract and sentenced her to six years in prison. in twenty years.
A panel of three judges said Mrs Kirchner, along with several other former aides, was permanently banned from holding public office, ending a longstanding corruption case against one of Argentina’s most prominent and polarizing politicians. said it would put an end to Mrs Kirchner became the first vice-president in the country to be tried and convicted on corruption charges during her tenure, after serving her two terms as president from 2007 to 2015. .
Madame Kirchner, a driving force in the populist Kirchnerismo movement, denied the accusations, saying she was a victim of political persecution. She is expected to appeal the sentence, but the process could drag on for years and hamper efforts by prosecutors to bar her from office, according to Argentine legal experts. have a nature
She also enjoys immunity from prosecution, so she may not serve time in prison. Additionally, Argentine law prohibits prison sentences for people over the age of 70. Mrs. Kirchner said she will be 70 years old in February.
“My compatriots, this sentence is not based on constitutional law,” Mrs. Kirchner said in a video address shortly after the court’s decision. “This is a parallel state, a judicial mafia.”
Mrs. Kirchner has left open the possibility of running for president in the past, but on Tuesday she ruled “I will not run.”
Kirchner, who has been a senator since 2019 and is considered the most dominant leader of left-leaning political movements, said: “I’m not a candidate for anything. I’m not president or senator.” . “My name will not be put on the ballot.”
The court also convicted eight persons of defrauding the state, sentenced them to three to six years’ imprisonment, and acquitted four. The case centered around the granting of public contracts to Lazaro Baez, a construction mogul close to the Kirchner family.
As a powerful figure in President Alberto Fernandez’s political coalition, Mrs. Kirchner’s legal troubles could weigh heavily on an unpopular government facing what economists call a difficult economic environment.
Fernandez and Economy Minister Sergio Massa earlier this year agreed to austerity measures and cut energy subsidies as part of a deal with the International Monetary Fund to refinance $44 billion of debt to avoid a default. Mrs. Kirchner opposed her efforts to reduce the budget deficit, clashed with the president and supported printing pesos to fund generous social programs.
Argentina’s poverty rate jumped from 28% in 2017 to 43% this year, according to a study by the Catholic University of Argentina. Annual inflation hit 88% in October, according to the Office of Official Statistics, her G20 top, and the pace of consumer price growth since Argentina faced hyperinflation in her early 1990s. became the best. Economists also expect inflation to reach 100% by the end of the year. Meanwhile, the peso has fallen sharply against the dollar this year, fearing a painful devaluation of the peso amid low central bank reserves.
Mrs. Kirchner and her supporters say the investigation generated animosity against her and led to an assassination attempt in September after prosecutors formally indicted her.
In a mysterious incident, as Mrs. Kirchner greeted a supporter outside her apartment and pulled the trigger, a man held a gun to her face. No weapons were fired and the Vice President was unharmed. A Brazilian man living in Argentina was arrested shortly after the attack. Authorities have not disclosed a motive.
The criminal case against Mrs. Kirchner dates back to her presidency when the government awarded construction tycoon Baez a contract to build a highway in Kirchnerismo’s home state of Santa Cruz in the southeast.
Argentina’s anti-transplant prosecutor sentenced Mrs Kirchner to 12 years in prison and public service, alleging she used her position to conspire with aides and Mr Baez to receive kickbacks for fraudulent contracts for the project. I was asking for a suspension. Prosecutors say the alleged conspiracy cost her nearly $1 billion in damages to the government.
The court found Mrs. Kirchner guilty of deceiving the state, but not guilty of leading a criminal conspiracy.
Baez, who is already serving a 12-year sentence on money laundering charges, has denied allegations in the past, flaunted his school and other projects, and proved the contracts issued to him were legitimate. .
Kirchner’s conviction is likely to further undermine support for the Fernandez government, which has an approval rating of about 18%, according to Mariel Fornoni, director of Argentine political consultancy Management and Fit. Public opinion polls show not only inflation but also corruption as the top concern for citizens, Fornoni said.
In recent months, Mrs. Kirchner has criticized some of the Fernandez administration’s efforts to cut subsidies for gas and other utilities. Fornoni said her comments fueled speculation that she could run for office in her election next year, when Fernandez’s term ends.
Fornoni said Mrs Kirchner was “rejected at a high level” in public opinion polls. But she said her vice president has strong supporters at just 25% of hers, and she was a major figure in the ruling Peronist Party until her announcement Tuesday.
“It will be difficult to find someone else to give Argentina confidence,” Fornoni said.
Mrs. Kirchner and her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007, presided over the country amid a trend of left-leaning governments across Latin America, exploiting revenues from rising commodity prices. to increase public spending and form alliances to counter the United States. Local influence.
As leftist governments re-emerged in countries in the region, Mrs. Kirchner gained new allies, some of whom criticized the investigation in Argentina.
In August, the presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Bolivia, along with Argentina, signed a joint statement calling for Mrs Kirchner’s political persecution. “They seek to bury her ideals and values that she represents with the ultimate goal of instilling a neoliberal model,” the statement said.
In post-judgment comments on Tuesday, Mrs Kirchner convicted of the ruling against the populist system she promoted in Argentina. “They are blaming me for blaming the model of economic development and the people’s perception of their rights,” she said.
Email Kejal Vyas at email@example.com.
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