Thu | Feb 2, 2023

VP guilty in $1B fraud, gets six years

Published:Friday | December 9, 2022 | 1:19 AM
A supporter of Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernandez cries while holding an Argentine flag after hearing the verdict and sentence in a conspiracy and fraud trial against Fernandez, outside the federal court building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Tue
A supporter of Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernandez cries while holding an Argentine flag after hearing the verdict and sentence in a conspiracy and fraud trial against Fernandez, outside the federal court building in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Tuesday.

BUENOS AIRES (AP):

Argentine Vice President Cristina Fernández was convicted and sentenced Tuesday to six years in prison and a lifetime ban from holding public office for a fraud scheme that embezzled $1 billion through public works projects during her presidency.

A three-judge panel found the Peronist leader guilty of fraud, but rejected a charge of running a criminal organisation, for which the sentence could have been 12 years in prison. It was the first time an Argentine vice president has been convicted of a crime while in office.

Fernández lashed out at the verdict, describing herself as the victim of a “judicial mafia”. But she also later announced that she would not run next year for the presidency, a post she previously held in 2007-2015.

The sentence isn’t firm until appeals are decided, a process that could take years. She will remain immune from arrest meanwhile.

Fernández’s supporters vowed to paralyse the country with a nationwide strike. They clogged downtown Buenos Aires and marched on the federal court building, beating drums and shouting as they pressed against police barriers.

Fernández roundly denied all the accusations. Argentina’s dominant leader this century, she was accused of improperly granting public works contracts to a construction magnate closely tied to her family.

The verdict is certain to deepen fissures in the South American nation, where politics can be a blood sport and the 69-year-old populist leader is either loved or hated.

INNOCENT

President Alberto Fernández, who is not related to his vice president, said on Twitter that she was innocent and that her conviction is “the result of a trial in which the minimum forms of due process were not taken care of”.

Prosecutors said Fernández fraudulently directed 51 public works projects to Lázaro Báez, a construction magnate and early ally of her and her husband Nestor Kirchner, who served as president in 2003-2007 and died suddenly in 2010.

Báez and members of Fernández’s 2007-2015 presidential administration were among a dozen others accused in the conspiracy. The panel also sentenced Báez and her public works secretary, José López, to six years. Most of the others got lesser sentences.

Prosecutors Diego Luciani and Sergio Mola said the Báez company was created to embezzle revenues through improperly bid projects that suffered from cost overruns and in many cases were never completed. The company disappeared after the Kirchners’ 12 years in power, they said.

In Argentina, judges in such cases customarily pronounce verdicts and sentences first and explain how they reached their decision later. The panel’s full decision is expected in February. After that, the verdict can be appealed up to the Supreme Court, a process that could take years.