Former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was charged in a corruption case Tuesday for illicit association and fraudulent administration with regards to the alleged granting of public construction contracts to specific companies. Fernandez' assets, estimated at more than 10 billion pesos (US$ 643 million) were frozen as a result of the judge's order.
Two former aides - ex-Planning Minister Julio de Vido and former Public Works Secretary Jose Lopez - were also named, along with businessman Lazaro Baez, whose company Grupo Austral allegedly received irregular contracts for road construction. Lopez was arrested in June, when trying to stash a sizeable amount of money in a convent (US$ 9 million). De Vido, now a national deputy, has parliamentary immunity.
Judge Julian Ercolini ordered ”an embargo on her assets of 10 billion pesos (US$630 million), according to a justice ministry statement, as he charged them and other officials of the previous national administration of crimes including the deliberate seizure of funds principally meant for public road works.
The ruling said the offenses took place until Dec. 9, 2015, Fernandez's last day as president after eight years in office. No arrest warrant has been issued for Fernandez. and Lopez is already in jail.
Fernandez and her co-defendants are accused of involvement with a corruption ring that gave particular companies a favored status when contracts were given for public works projects between May 2003 and December 2015. She denies any wrongdoing.
In May, she was indicted on charges of unfaithful administration to the detriment of public administration. In other words: manipulating currency exchange futures markets, allegedly causing large losses in government finances. According to the charges, the central bank took during her term money-losing positions in the futures market just before a widely expected devaluation of the peso currency. The former president, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, has blasted the accusations as a big maneuver of political persecution.
Fernandez, 63, was president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015. She was succeeded by the conservative Mauricio Macri, whom she has previously accused of scheming against her.
It is the latest legal trouble for a generation of leftist leaders who dominated Latin American politics until recently. CFK, who was in office from 2007 to 2015, was charged with illicit association and fraudulent administration for allegedly favoring construction magnate Lazaro Baez for public contracts in Patagonia, her southern political bastion.
Kirchner, 63, joins Brazil's former presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff on a list of so-called pink tide leaders facing corruption charges or allegations of abusing power.
It is the second set of charges brought against her this year. In November, an appeals court upheld a decision to charge her with damaging the national finances during her time in office. In that case, she is accused of ordering the central bank to sell dollar futures at artificially low prices near the end of her term, causing Argentina to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. She had already been hit with a $1 million asset freeze in that case.
Baez's fortune grew considerably during the Kirchners' three terms. Prosecutors say his company won $2.2 billion worth of public contracts in Santa Cruz province during Cristina Kirchner's administration -- 78 percent of all public tenders for the province.
During preliminary hearings, CFK downplayed her ties to the businessman, saying I am neither a friend nor an associate of Baez.” She calls the cases against her a political plot by her successor, center-right President Mauricio Macri.
Macri swept to power just over a year ago with promises to revive Latin America's third-largest economy with market-friendly reforms after 12 years of leftist rule under which the country went from economic boom to bust. The promised growth has yet to arrive, however. The combative Kirchner has sought to leverage that in her favor, convening supporters for large protests outside her court appearances.
Like Lula and Rousseff in neighboring Brazil, she accuses her opponents of trying to sideline her from the political scene. Lula, who left office in 2011 with popularity ratings over 90 percent, now faces charges in a massive, multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme centered on the state oil company Petrobras.
Rousseff, his hand-picked successor, was impeached in August over accusations she fudged the government's accounts to hide the depth of a recession and improve her chances at re-election.
She was replaced by center-right President Michel Temer, whose government has now also been tainted by the Petrobras scandal.