Argentina’s sitting Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has been found guilty of corruption on Tuesday and sentenced to six years in prison, along with a lifelong ban on holding public office. She will remain free until the end of her term in office, however, due to immunity.
The federal court in Buenos Aires delivered the verdict after three and a half years of proceedings involving more than 100 witnesses. Kirchner, 69, was accused of taking bribes and having an “illicit association” with a construction magnate during her 2007-2015 presidency. Prosecutors had sought a 12-year sentence.
Kirchner has been vice president and head of the Argentinian senate since December 2019, and can only be stripped of immunity with an unlikely two-thirds vote in the chamber. She also has the option to appeal the verdict to the supreme court.
Tuesday’s verdict is the first time a sitting vice president in Argentina was sentenced for wrongdoing while in office. Kirchner’s then vice president, Amado Boudou, as well as Presidents Carlos Menem and Fernando de la Rua, had all been convicted after leaving their posts.
Kirchner had denied all charges, calling the process politically charged and ridden with irregularities. Within minutes of the verdict, she said the case went beyond “lawfare.”
“This is a parallel state and judicial mafia, and the confirmation of a parastatal system where decisions are made about the life, patrimony and freedom of all Argentines outside the electoral results,” she said.
Kirchner succeeded her late husband Nestor (2003-2007) as president, and was suspected of directing millions in public works funds to Lázaro Baez, a businessman who was a friend of the couple.
After Kirchner left office in 2015, she was also charged with setting a fraudulently low price for dollar-denominated futures, but was later acquitted. Another indictment charged her with treason, but was dropped, while a claim that she had made a secret pact with Iran to protect the alleged perpetrators of a 1994 terrorist bombing was thrown out by a federal court in October 2021.
President Alberto Fernandez backed Kirchner, calling the investigation into her “political” in nature. The next presidential election in Argentina is in 11 months, and it was widely believed Kirchner would run for the post again, though no official announcements have been made.
Kirchner is seen as the most influential figure inside Argentina’s ruling Justicialist Party, founded by Juan and Eva Peron in 1946. Her son Maximo leads the ruling majority bloc in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Argentinian parliament.
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