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Argentina’s Iran-Friendly Former President May Be Indicted for Money Laundering

Former President of Argentina Cristina Fernández de Kirchner may be indicted in a sprawling money laundering case should the judge presiding accept federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan’s request to bring her into the investigation. Kirchner will be testifying regarding a separate case on Wednesday.

The case in question involved Lázaro Báez, a businessman who has shared ownership of hotels and other business properties with the former President and her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner. The Wall Street Journal reports that, as the court documents remain sealed, it is unclear what role Fernández de Kirchner is believed to have played in the case, in which Báez is implicated in a $5.1 million money laundering case involving the use of shell corporations to buy and sell currencies to generate income.

According to documents released as part of the leak known as the “Panama Papers,” Báez used the Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca to establish shell corporations in Nevada through which to cycle Argentine money. The extent of the former presidents’ involvement in this scheme remains unknown. In the case Fernández de Kirchner is to testify about on Wednesday, prosecutors are working to prove the allegation that the Central Bank of the Republic of Argentina (BCRA) allowed a temporary purchase of American dollars at a much smaller price than market value. The money fetched a far larger sum in other international markets, allowing those involved in the scandal to generate illicit revenue, according to prosecutors.

In addition to prosecutors, a jailed businessman linked to Báez, Leonardo Fariña, is claiming to have exclusive information tying the Kirchner government to a number of illegal finance schemes. Fariña claims to have wiretaps, Internet conversations, and other primary source proof that Kirchner was involved in the illegal projects that landed Báez in jail.

The head of Kirchner’s Victory Front party in the Argentina Congress, Héctor Recalde, has dismissed Fariña as a “serial liar” and claimed his testimony “did not even tie Cristina” to any crimes. Recalde also accused the judge in the Báez case, Marijuan, of being “not an example of judicial independence.”

Kirchner supporters are also accusing Claudio Bonadio, the judge presiding over the case in which Kirchner will testify Wednesday, of “violating the principles of equal process” for calling her to testify. Clarín’s journalists cite sources close to Bonadio as affirming that he “would never cite a relevant former official like Cristina without previously acquiring the necessary evidence to process the case.” The newspaper also alleges that sources close to current President Mauricio Macri would also prefer not to see Kirchner testify on Wednesday because “it might lead to the perfect situation in which Cristina could present herself as a victim before society.”

Macri, a popular conservative, has not made any explicit statements regarding his predecessor. Instead, at an event on Monday to announce a new early childhood education initiative, he declared he sought to govern “an Argentina where we educate our children to work with respect for others, to respect the law, an Argentina where there is no impunity” – a remark some are interpreting as related to the Kirchner legal woes.

Kirchner returned from her vacation home in the south of the country on Monday, making her first public appearance since leaving the presidency after ending her term in November.

This is not the first time a prosecutor seeks to indict Kirchner, though her legal troubles in the past have been of a more political nature. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was in charge of the investigation of the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), drafted an arrest warrant for Kirchner alleging she aided Iranian terrorists in hiding from the law. The arrest warrant, which also named Kirchner’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, was found in Nisman’s garbage can during a police search of his apartment. Nisman was found dead in his apartment on January 18, 2015, from a gunshot wound to his head. He was to testify against Kirchner before the Argentine Congress the next day. No arrests have been made yet in the Nisman case, as the prosecutor Kirchner appointed to investigate declared the case a “suicide.” That prosecutor has been replaced by the Macri government, and the case is now being treated as a homicide.

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