A federal judge approved charges against Argentina’s former President Cristina Fernandez in connection with a corruption case that allegedly benefited a family friend during her and her late husband’s combined 12 years in office.
Fernandez was indicted Tuesday and will be processed for allegedly steering public contracts to millionaire businessman Lazaro Baez, who is currently being tried in an embezzling and money laundering case.
Prosecutors began looking into Baez after a 2013 journalistic investigation named him as Fernandez's figurehead in an elaborate scheme. The news report said Baez used his companies to launder money for her and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.
Since Fernandez ended her term in December, the new administration has promised to crack down on the corruption that has long plagued Argentina. Analysts say that has emboldened judges who are now more independent to pursue sensitive cases against the former leader and her close circle without fear of retribution.
Fernandez has always dismissed the accusations as lies, saying they are politically motivated.
Fernandez and Kirchner were the most dominant political leaders to come out of Argentina in decades and are often credited with lifting the country out of its worst economic crisis in 2001. But detractors say their social policies contributed to spiraling inflation and criticize her combative rhetoric, the couple's personal enrichment, and their ties to scandals.
Over the past months, prosecutors were looking into the financial transactions at several top hotels owned by the Kirchner family in the southern province of Santa Cruz, where Fernandez has been living since she stepped down from office.
Local news reports say the hotels are usually empty, raising questions about how they generate the income they report.
Former Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner indicted in 'nuns and guns' corruption scandal
Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was indicted on Tuesday on charges she ran a corruption scheme with a public works secretary who was arrested in June while trying to stash millions of dollars in a convent.
A federal judge accused them and other officials of the Fernandez administration of crimes "including the deliberate seizure of funds principally meant for public road works."
Corruption charges have long swirled around Fernandez and her husband and predecessor, the late Nestor Kirchner. She denies wrongdoing and accuses Argentina's current leader, Mauricio Macri, of using the courts to persecute her.
The country was riveted in June when Fernandez's former public works secretary, Jose Lopez, was arrested while tossing bags stuffed with millions of dollars over the walls of a Catholic convent on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
A gun-toting Lopez started hurling the money into the Our Lady of Fatima convent when the elderly nuns inside were slow to answer the door in the early morning hours of June 14, according to a neighbor who witnessed what happened and called 911.
A surveillance video shows the nuns finally welcoming Lopez and accepting the cash while paying little attention to the automatic rifle he had placed by the convent door.
Lopez and his direct boss, former Planning Minister Julio De Vido, were indicted along with Fernandez on Tuesday.
The alleged skimming of road projects took place in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, where Fernandez lives.
The ruling said the offenses took place until Dec. 9, 2015, Fernandez's last day as president after eight years in office. No arrest warrant has been issued for Fernandez, and Lopez is already in jail on money laundering charges.
In May Fernandez was indicted for "unfaithful administration to the detriment of public administration." During her administration, according to the charges, the central bank took money-losing positions in the futures market just before a widely expected devaluation of the peso currency.
Fernandez, head of the leftist faction of the Peronism party umbrella, is revered by millions of Argentines for her generous welfare programs. She is reviled by others, who accuse her of wrecking Argentina's economy, Latin America's third biggest, with profligate state spending and heavy-handed trade and currency controls.
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner indicted in Argentina corruption case
|CREDIT: RICARDO MAZALAN/AP|
Federal judge Julian Ercolini approved charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration against Fernández, and two former aides: ex-planning minister Julio de Vido and former public works secretary José López.
Also named was businessman Lázaro Báez, whose Austral Construcciones company allegedly benefited from irregular contracts.
The judge’s order froze the equivalent of up to $633m of each defendant’s assets, though it was not clear they have that much.
The ruling published by official Center of Judicial Information said the defendants are accused of associating to illegally take public funds meant for public works between May 2003 and December 2015.
Fernández made no immediate comment on the charge, but she has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Since leaving office in December 2015, Fernández has alleged that she is the victim of persecution by her conservative successor, Mauricio Macri.
In May, a judge indicted Fernández on charges of manipulating currency exchange futures markets, allegedly causing economic damage to the government.
A judge is also seeking to revive an investigation into Fernández over an alleged cover-up on behalf of Iranians suspected in the 1994 bombing of the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association, which caused its main building to collapse and killed 85 people.
No one has been convicted of the crime but in January 2015, an Argentinian federal prosecutor accused Fernández of attempting to cover up Iran’s involvement.
The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found shot in the head just before he was to present the case to congress. His death remains unsolved.