Former Argentine President Fernando de la Rua was formally charged Wednesday with misuse of public funds in a case dating to his time as mayor of the city of Buenos Aires, judicial sources confirmed.
Mr. De la Rúa was indicted in a case involving the hiring by the Buenos Aires local government of employees known in Argentina as "gnocchis" named after the potato-dumpling style Italian pasta which is traditionally consumed on the 29th of each month and which coincides with pay day in most Argentine federal and local governments, the only day these "political cronies" turn up at the job.
The case dates back to 1997-99 when Mr. De la Rua was Argentina capital's first elected mayor, a post from which he jumped to the presidency defeating Peronist candidate Eduardo Duahalde.
The Buenos Aires city council, which in 1994 became a municipal legislature, was christened the "corruption palace" by the press given the notorious and reiterated court cases against several councilmen, all of them accused of involvement in corruption.
Judge Alberto Baños tried several former councilmen for including "gnocchis" on the council's payroll when they were really involved in private or party activities.
In fact the prosecution went further and was able to prove that some Councillors actually pocketed the money supposedly earmarked for "phantom gnocchis", some of which their names were randomly picked from the phone directory.
Judge Baños had originally lifted charges against Mr. De la Rua, despite evidence that the then Mayor had a gardener looking after his country estate in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, who was in the Council's payroll.
Judicial sources said that the Appeals Court reversed the ruling and ordered the indictment of Mr. De la Rua as a "secondary participant" in the illicit actions.
Mr. De la Rua, as candidate for the Alliance, a coalition of centre and centre-left parties, won the 1999 presidential election and ruled Argentina for two years before being ousted from office in December 2001 following violent social riots, financial chaos and the collapse of the country's economy.
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