Kirchner in court days before assuming Argentine vice-presidency

by Nina NEGRON
Former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner -- who assumes the vice presidency next week -- waves as she arrives at a court in Buenos Aires

Argentina's ex-president Cristina Kirchner appeared in court Monday to give evidence in a corruption trial in which she is charged with diverting public funds, just a week before she returns to the country's government as vice president.

Kirchner, 66, smiled and waved to a group of banner-waving supporters when she arrived at Buenos Aires's Comodoro Py courthouse for a hearing that lasted four hours.

Kirchner denounced her trial as part of a "systematic plan" to demonize and destroy her and other Latin American leftist leaders.

The media and judicial apparatus in Argentina and the rest of Latin America was working "with the objective of demonizing and destroying the leaders of popular and democratic governments," Kirchner wrote on Twitter.

She is accused of having favored companies owned by businessman Lazaro Baez in the award of 52 public works contracts worth 46 billion pesos ($1.2 billion) during her presidency and that of her late husband Nestor Kirchner.

The trial is one of eight separate cases in which she faces charges stemming from the couple's time in office.

Her legal team had called on the court to allow her testimony to be broadcast live on television but the judge refused.

Inside the court, Kirchner characterized her treatment as political persecution, saying her enemies wanted to remove her from public life.

She lashed out in particular at the prosecutions of her children Maximo and Florencia, who are co-defendants in one of the cases against her.

"They prevented my children and I from having a credit card," she said, in reference to an asset-freeze successfully sought by prosecutors in one case.

She also denounced what she called "cinematographic searches" of her three homes in another case, as well as "illegal wiretaps".

Kirchner later tweeted a video of her statement in court.

"History absolved me and will absolve me, and you will be condemned by history," she said.

The head of her legal team, Carlos Beraldi, blasted the prosecution as politically motivated. "These are very weak arguments. There was no legal reason" to prosecute the case, he told reporters after the hearing.

Gregorio Dalbon, one of her lawyers, said those responsible for taking the case "will surely be tried in the future."

"In everything they've said about Cristina, they have found nothing," he said.

- Back in office -

Kirchner swept back into government last month, credited with masterminding the electoral triumph of president-elect Alberto Fernandez, who united a fragmented left to push incumbent President Mauricio Macri's center-right coalition from power.

Despite the raft of legal cases against her, Kirchner remains one of the country's most popular politicians and will assume the vice-presidency when Fernandez is inaugurated on December 10.

She has avoided being held in pre-trial detention after parliament frustrated a prosecutor's request by maintaining the parliamentary immunity she enjoyed as a senator.

Her senate position has protected her from imprisonment, although not from prosecution.

But parliament in 2019 partially lifted her immunity, meaning her homes could be searched. Some 30 pieces of art which Argentine media said were worth about $4 million were seized.

She lambasted one daily newspaper for making it seem like she had a "museum" at home.

In one of the cases against her, she is charged with covering up Iranian involvement in a deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish charity in Buenos Aires.

Prosecutors said she made an illicit deal with Iran to allow suspects to be investigated in Tehran and never brought to Argentina.

She also stands accused of ordering the central bank to sell dollar futures at artificially low prices, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses to the state.

Former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner -- who assumes the vice presidency next week -- waves as she arrives at a court in Buenos Aires