Legal Probes Multiply Against Former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner
May 17, 2016
Five months after leaving office as one of the most powerful Argentine leaders in decades, former President Cristina Kirchner finds herself fending off a series of serious criminal allegations, further ratcheting up tensions in the already polarized country.
Mrs. Kirchner’s attorney vowed on Monday to defend her against charges that she ordered Argentina’s central bank to illegally trade derivatives, costing the country around $5.5 billion. The “unfaithful administration” charges, leveled at Mrs. Kirchner on Friday by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, could entail a sentence of up to six years in prison. She denies wrongdoing.
The indictment against Mrs. Kirchner, who was often accused of exerting improper influence over the judiciary during her tenure, is the latest in a series of rapidly advancing criminal cases that could trigger further formal charges against her.
“If the judicial branch acts independently, the possible accumulation of indictments and convictions could end up with her in jail,” said Ricardo Monner Sans, a prominent Argentine lawyer and anticorruption activist. “But we are years away from that.”
Mr. Sans filed a criminal complaint against former President Carlos Menem in 1995 for his alleged involvement in smuggling arms to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s. A court sentenced him in 2013 to seven years in prison, but Mr. Menem remains free and the case is continuing through a long appeals process.
Mrs. Kirchner has been named in two separate probes into corruption allegations. Last month, a federal prosecutor requested she be investigated as a suspect in a money-laundering probe allegedly involving a prominent government contractor and associate of Mrs. Kirchner. Federal Judge Sebastian Casanello has to clear that request, which could lead to formal charges.
More recently, in another case overseen by Mr. Bonadio, a prosecutor requested that Mrs. Kirchner be investigated for allegedly accepting bribes, a request that the judge would have to approve. Mrs. Kirchner said both probes are politically motivated and has denied wrongdoing connected to them.
Some legal experts say the case involving central-bank derivatives is the weakest of the allegations against the former president and could be overturned by an appellate court. The cases could also drag on for years—even decades—, possibly hurting Mrs. Kirchner’s chances of running for office again and regaining political power.
Members of Mrs. Kirchner´s Victory Front opposition party have staged street protests against the judiciary probes, saying they aim to distract attention from economic problems they say were created by her successor, President Mauricio Macri.
“Most judges are independent, but there’s a sector of the courts that has a clear oppositional attitude toward the previous government. We’re seeing a sort of revengeful attitude,” said Victory Front Congressman Hector Recalde.
On Monday, Mrs. Kirchner’s attorney, Carlos Beraldi, said Judge Bonadio had shown “manifest enmity” toward the former president.
“Judges should resolve legal questions based on the law. That is exactly what Judge Bonadio did not do. He issued a ruling based on his intentions and his political opinions,” Mr. Beraldi told Argentine radio on Monday. Judge Bonadio hasn’t spoken publicly about the case.
The rising tension over Mrs. Kirchner’s legal situation comes as Mr. Macri is implementing a package of unpopular measures to slow rampant inflation, cut subsidies and narrow the widest budget gap since 1982. Political turmoil and a recession in Brazil, Argentina’s main trading partner, also threaten to dent the country´s economy.
Mrs. Kirchner’s supporters have compared the court cases against her with the political dynamics that led last week to the suspension and pending impeachment trial of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
In March, a poll by Buenos Aires-based Giacobbe & Asociados indicated that 59% of Argentines think Mrs. Kirchner could end up in jail because of the corruption cases. The same poll showed that while 80% of Mr. Macri supporters envision that outcome, only 8% of Mrs. Kirchner allies do.
Since she left leaving office in December, Mrs. Kirchner’s approval ratings have declined as headlines detailing alleged corruption became prominent in leading newspapers and evening news shows. Earlier this month, a poll by Isonomia indicated that Mrs. Kirchner’s approval rating have fallen even among anti-Macri voters who are most likely to support her, sliding from 79% in January to 68% in April.
That doesn’t mean those people will start viewing Mr. Macri favorably, said Juan Manuel Germano, an analyst at Isonimia.