Argentina: ex-president Cristina Fernández charged in bribery scandal
Judge’s indictment alleges corruption network was set up by Néstor Kirchner and his wife took over when he died
Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández was at the helm of a broad corruption network that on at least 87 occasions delivered sacks full of cash to her private home on the corner of Juncal and Uruguay streets in the capital city of Buenos Aires, according to an indictment filed against her on Monday.
The astounding accusation by the federal judge Claudio Bonadío is the first such major bribery charge levelled against a former Argentinian president. The indictment charges that Fernández accepted bribes from construction companies in exchange for public works contracts during her two terms as president from 2007-2015. It states that the broad corruption network made up of business people and government officials was set up by her then husband and predecessor in office, Néstor Kirchner,during his 2003-2007 term. He died of heart failure in 2010.
“During the government of Néstor Kirchner an illegal collection system was put into operation that continued during the presidency of his wife, Cristina Elisabet Fernández,” stated the judge in the indictment. Fernández and her husband “were the ones who gave the directives and orders for the development of the manoeuvres investigated, as well as the final beneficiaries of them”.
The corruption scandal erupted in August when the major Argentinian daily La Nación published notebooks kept by a chauffeur of Fernández’s former planning minister. The notebooks catalogued bags of cash allegedly delivered to government offices and the private residence of Fernández. A spokesperson for Fernández did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The bombshell indictment will not however result in the arrest of the former president, who now sits in congress. As a senator, Fernández enjoys immunity from arrest although she is not immune from prosecution.
Judge Bonadío, who is heading the investigation, asked that Fernández be impeached, a move that is unlikely to garner the support necessary to pass a Senate vote.
“It is necessary to continue this investigation until we have completely clarified how these illegal payments were structured, at least in regards to the officials who were part of the former planning ministry and the entrepreneurs associated with them,” the indictment said.
The scandal has implicated dozens of former officials and business owners in the construction sector, shaking confidence in an industry already burdened by an ailing economy, government cuts to public works and crippling interest rates at 60%.
Although Fernández has previously been indicted on other charges she still enjoys broad popular support and is widely expected to run for president in next year’s elections.
More than a dozen people have been arrested in the case. They include business leaders and former officials who served in Fernández’s 2007-2015 administration.
The lack of evidence that Fernández received the alleged bags of cash personally is not proof of innocence, said the judge. “The fact that no deliveries of illegitimate sums of money were made to Fernández herself does not prevent us from sustaining her responsibility in these events,” states the indictment.