A federal court in Argentina has found Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner guilty in a high-profile corruption case, sentencing the politician to six years in prison and disqualifying her from holding public office.
The former president, who denies the allegations against her and dismissed the trial as a political witch hunt, was found guilty of the crime of “fraudulent administration to the detriment of the state.” The three-panel judge rejected the charge that she ran a criminal organisation, which would have led to a more severe punishment.
She is unlikely to spend any time behind bars because she holds congressional immunity due to her role as the nation’s deputy leader and head of the Senate.
The decision is expected to be appealed by Fernandez de Kirchner, who has rejected the allegations against her as a “staged fable” and is unlikely to soon serve any prison time due to governmental immunity.
The three-judge panel declared her guilty of “fraudulent administration” over irregular public works contracts that were awarded during her time as president between 2007 and 2015, but rejected a charge of running a criminal organisation.
Fernández de Kirchner responded to the verdict by saying that “none of the lies were proven” and that she had been convicted by a “legal mafia.”
“I won’t be a candidate for anything, not a senator, or a deputy or president of the nation” in the 2023 general elections, she said in an hour-long broadcast immediately after the court had ruled.
She was accused of fraudulently awarding public works contracts in her stronghold province of Santa Cruz during her two terms as president (2007-2015).
Prosecutors had asked for a 12-year jail term and lifetime ban from politics and have already indicated they will seek a harsher sentence on appeal. During the trial, lead prosecutor Diego Luciani denounced what he branded “a system of institutional corruption” and “probably the largest corruption operation” in the country’s history, with “systematic irregularities in 51 calls for tenders” over more than a decade.
In total, 13 people were charged with two crimes: illicit association and fraudulent administration. Among the 12 other defendants were former Federal Planning minister Julio De Vido, former Public Works secretary José López and Lázaro Báez, the businessman allegedly at the heart of the corrupt organisation.
Eight of the co-accused were found guilty and sentenced to between three and six-and-a-half years in jail. Three were released and another had their case dismissed as it had passed the statute of limitations.
Báez and López were handed six years by the court for their crimes. De Vido, former public works undersecretaries Abel Fatala and Carlos Santiago Kirchner and Santa Cruz provincial roads agency chief Héctor Garro were among those acquitted.