A federal judge in Argentina indicted former President Cristina Fernandez for treason and asked for her arrest for allegedly covering up Iran’s possible role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people and injured hundreds, a court ruling said.
As Fernandez is a senator, Congress would first have to vote to strip her of parliamentary immunity for an arrest to occur. The judge, Claudio Bonadio, also indicted and ordered house arrest for Fernandez’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, the 491-page ruling said.
Fernandez called a news conference in Congress to deny wrongdoing and accuse Bonadio and President Mauricio Macri of degrading the judiciary. “It is an invented case about facts that did not exist,” she said, dressed in white.
While removing immunity from lawmakers is rare in Argentina, Congress voted on Oct. 25 to do so for Fernandez’s former planning minister Julio De Vido and he was arrested the same day. De Vido is accused of fraud and corruption, which he denies.
Argentina’s legislature has entered a period of judicial recess until March but can be convened for urgent matters.
Fernandez and her allies have been the focus of several high profile cases with arrests and indictments since center-right Mauricio Macri defeated her chosen successor and was elected president in late 2015.
The cover-up allegations against Fernandez gained international attention in January 2015, when the prosecutor who initially made them, Alberto Nisman, was found shot dead in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment.
An Argentine appeals court a year ago ordered the re-opening of the investigation. Nisman’s death was classified as a suicide, though an official investigating the case has said the shooting appeared to be a homicide. Nisman’s body was discovered hours before he was to brief Congress on the bombing of the AMIA center.
Nisman said Fernandez worked behind the scenes to clear Iran and normalize relations to clinch a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran that was signed in 2013. The agreement created a joint commission to investigate the AMIA bombing that critics said was really a means to absolve Iran.
Argentine, Israeli and U.S. officials have long blamed the AMIA attack on Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Iran. Tehran has denied links to the attack.
Earlier on Thursday, two lower level allies of Fernandez were arrested based on the same ruling from judge Bonadio: Carlos Zannini, a legal adviser and close confident of Cristina Fernandez, and Luis D‘Elia, the leader of a group of protesters supporting her government.
Zannini’s lawyer, Alejandro Baldin, told local media the detention was “arbitrary, illegal and ran over constitutional and individual rights,” after leaving a police station in Rio Gallegos, where Zannini was held.
D‘Elia’s lawyer, Adrian Albor, told radio Del Plata that Bonadio had no respect for the law, rights, justice. “They are coming for everyone in the previous government.”
Bonadio wrote in his ruling that evidence showed Iran, with the help of Argentine citizens, had appeared to achieve its goal of avoiding being declared a “terrorist” state by Argentina.
The crime of treason is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison, Argentina’s maximum sentence. The next step in the case would be an oral trial and sentences can be appealed on first instance, which could be a long process.
Macri’s leader in the Senate, Federico Pinedo, said on Twitter that Congress would analyze the request to strip immunity “with sincerity and responsibility.”
Macri’s coalition performed better than expected in Oct. 22 mid-term elections, gaining seats in Congress, but it is not clear if lawmakers will vote to strip Fernandez’s immunity. Fernandez, who governed from 2007 to 2015, finished second to a Macri ally in the Buenos Aires province Senate race but won a seat under Argentina’s list system. She was sworn in last week.
She was also indicted in late 2016 on charges she ran a corruption scheme with her public works secretary. Fernandez has admitted there may have been corruption in her government but personally denies wrongdoing.
The 451 page ruling also indicted and ordered the arrest of Jorge Yussuf Khalil, head of an Islamic group lobby; Fernando Esteche, leader of the Quebracho movement, famous for its radical and violent stance, and among other things burning British flags and attacking Falklands' symbols or references. Three other indictments, with prohibition of leaving Argentina, include the former head of the federal intelligence agency Oscar Parrilli, Kirchnerite lawmaker Andres Larroque and a former Prosecutor of the Treasury, Angelina Abbona.
D'Elía and Yussuf Khalil are close friends of the Teheran regime where they travelled with certain regularity and promoted Iranian interests in Argentina in coordination with Venezuela. They also organized conferences, forums and marches in support of Iran.
However as things go in Argentina, a television program of independent journalists revealed that Judge Bonadio is retiring next January, his pension request has been approved, and they also recalled that during the Kirchner years, he was considered a faithful K magistrate and boxed many cases that could harm the powerful presidential couple.
Likewise under the new government of president Macri, Bonadio became a clear antagonist of Cristina Fernandez, repeatedly clashing with the ex president who wanted him removed from her cases on several occasions, but to no avail.
And as to claims that the administration of president Macri is behind the move, if true, it's hard to understand since the government prefers to have Cristina Fernandez in the Senate, isolated, and not jailed and victimized, which could trigger voters' sympathy. Furthermore the moment chosen by Bonadio to make the move could not be more damaging for Macri who this weekend is hosting the World Trade Organization summit in Buenos Aires.
Bonadio despite support from higher magistrates when recused, is not considered a top line professional, and from the time of ex president Carlos Menem was described as manageable. In effect, in a famous incident leaked to the media, Menem's cabinet chief of the time wrote in a napkin the names of several magistrates that could be trusted and one of those names was Claudio Bonadio.