Argentina’s vice-president blasts ‘firing squad’ overseeing her corruption trial

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who claims to be a victim of political persecution, is facing 12 years in prison and a lifetime ban on holding office if she is found guilty on December 6 of leading a scheme that diverted $1 billion in state funds

Argentina's Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner speaking during her trial from her office in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.
Argentina's Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner speaking during her trial from her office in Buenos Aires on Tuesday.CHARO LARISGOITIA (AFP)

“Last words...” said Cristina Fernández de Kirchner from her office in the Senate, staring at the camera. She paused for a second, smiled and delivered the line she had already envisaged as a headline. “Never has a judicial term been so appropriate to define what this court is: it is a firing squad.”

Her words were aimed at three federal judges who on December 6 will decide whether she is guilty of leading an alleged scheme to divert state funds through public works contracts. The prosecution wants Fernández de Kirchner to spend 12 years behind bars and be permanently barred from holding public office.

Fernández de Kirchner, 69, has been charged with “illicit association” and “aggravated fraudulent administration” in connection with a corruption case involving 12 other defendants and known in Argentina as the Vialidad Case. The 51 contracts under scrutiny were awarded in the province of Santa Cruz, the political cradle of Kirchnerism, to companies owned by a friend of the Kirchners, Lázaro Baez, over a 12-year period (Baez has since been sentenced to 12 years in prison for money laundering). Prosecutors said many contracts were inflated and some were never carried out. They have estimated that the scheme cost the state around $1 billion. The defendants include officials accused of collecting bribes and businesspeople suspected of paying them.

But the vice-president claims to be a victim of political persecution.

“A government that was democratically elected three times is not an ‘illicit association’,” she said, alluding to the government of her late husband Néstor Kirchner (2003 -2007) and her own two terms in the president’s office between 2007 and 2015.

On Tuesday, the vice-president spoke for less than 20 minutes, a far cry from the long speeches she has given in the past in court. At her first hearing on December 2, 2019, she claimed to be the victim of a case in which the sentence had been decided ahead of time. The ultimate goal of the trial, according to the vice-president, is to remove her from politics and erode Peronism, the movement she represents.

“The sentence is written, but I never thought it would be so badly written,” said Fernández de Kirchner, accusing the two lead prosecutors in the case, Diego Luciani and Sergio Mola, of spreading lies about her. To reinforce the idea of the firing squad, she recalled the assassination attempt against her outside her house in early September.

Kirchner has maintained throughout the trial that the entire investigation against her is a set-up by the opposition to imprison her. Her lawyers have uploaded a document entitled “The Twenty Lies of the Vialidad Case” to social media.

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