Former Argentine president makes defiant declaration of innocence

Cristina Kirchner delivers statement to judge investigating corruption links

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner:  a judge has accused her of heading up a “criminal organisation” during her eight years as president between 2007 and 2015. Photograph: EPA/David Fernandez

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner: a judge has accused her of heading up a “criminal organisation” during her eight years as president between 2007 and 2015. Photograph: EPA/David Fernandez

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Former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner has said her opponents can “excavate all of Patagonia” in their bid to prove her corruption, but said they would fail to turn up any evidence against her.

Her defiant declaration of innocence was delivered on Tuesday in a statement to a judge investigating her links to a jailed businessman, a day after she was formally charged in a separate investigation into the payment of bribes for public works contracts.

Accusations of corruption have swirled around the Kirchner clan ever since Cristina’s late husband Néstor became president in 2003. The investigations into her family’s financial dealings have gathered pace since she left office in 2015. In recent weeks three of her residences have been visited by investigators after Ms Kirchner joined colleagues in the senate in voting to authorise investigators to search them.

In his indictment published on Monday, Judge Claudio Bonadío accused Ms Kirchner of heading up a “criminal organisation” during her eight years as president between 2007 and 2015 and called for her detention.

But her position as senator means she enjoys parliamentary immunity from arrest, even as various investigations into her activities advance through the courts. Two-thirds of senators must vote for the lifting of her parliamentary immunity, giving Ms Kirchner’s Peronist bloc a veto on efforts to arrest her.

Bribery system

Judge Bonadío is investigating a supposed bribery system in which leading construction companies paid kickbacks to the Kirchner administration in return for public works contracts. The investigation was blown open after eight copy books allegedly belonging to the driver of a senior official in the planning ministry came to light.

The notebooks, which cover the 12 years the Kirchners were in control of Argentina, supposedly detail the distribution of tens of millions of euro in bribes over the period. Dozens of former officials and businessmen have been arrested in the investigation with several now providing testimony implicating Ms Kirchner in wrongdoing.

The planning minister throughout the Kirchners’ years in power was Julio de Vido, who was the right-hand man of Néstor Kirchner since his time as governor of the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz in the 1990s. He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity last year and arrested in one of the multiple corruption investigations into his time as minister.

‘Long persecution’

On Tuesday Ms Kirchner was before a separate court investigation of the so-called “K-Money Route” in which she is accused of participating in a money-laundering operation overseen by Lázaro Báez, one of a clutch of minor business figures whose fortunes ballooned during the Kirchner administrations.

Ms Kirchner was also charged with treason last year over her alleged collusion with Iran to cover up its involvement in the suicide truck bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994.

The attack killed 85 people in the worst anti-Semitic atrocity since the second World War.

In her statement to the court on Tuesday, Ms Kirchner said she was the victim of a “long persecution” and accused her successor Mauricio Macri of using his office against her.

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