Argentina ex-leader in court over dodgy dollar claims

Argentina's former president Cristina Kirchner waves at supporters in front of the Comodoro Py courthouse, where she testified before a federal judge over corruption allegations, in Buenos Aires on April 13, 2016

Buenos Aires (AFP) – Argentina’s ex-leader Cristina Kirchner faced a judge Wednesday over alleged fraud in a case raising the political heat after her successor was separately named in the Panama Papers scandal.

The leftist ex-president, 63, has rejected the accusations that she was involved in suspect currency transactions by Argentina’s central bank last year in the closing months of her presidency as a plot by the new government.

“I am not afraid of them,” she wrote in a declaration filed with the court on Wednesday and published on her Facebook page.

“I will face up to this case and any other one that they want to fabricate against me.”

The case follows separate revelations that current conservative President Mauricio Macri had ties to an offshore company named in the Panama Papers leaks. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Macri took over from Kirchner in December after he narrowly beat her side in an election. That ended 12 years of leftist rule by her and her late husband Nestor, who came to power after a financial crisis.

Macri launched steps to liberalize the Argentine economy, Latin America’s third biggest. Kirchner’s supporters say his spending cuts and price rises are hurting poorer families.

– Kirchner supporters rally –

Thousands of Kirchner’s supporters gathered in the rain to greet her as she arrived smiling at the courthouse in central Buenos Aires.

“Cristina, the people are with you,” they yelled.

“If you go to jail, I’m going with you,” read one of the signs waving in the crowd.

Judge Claudio Bonadio is investigating whether there are grounds to charge Kirchner over claims that she mishandled public funds in connection with the sale of dollars below market value by the central bank in September.

It is one of numerous cases connected to former leading officials from the Kirchners’ center-left governments.

Bonadio is an open critic of Kirchner, who in the past tried to have him dismissed from his post.

She arrived in Buenos Aires on Tuesday following four months in southern Patagonia, where she secluded herself after leaving office.

The case comes in a tense political atmosphere, with accusations of bias among prosecutors and judges.

Argentina’s former economy minister and former central bank chairman are also named in the case.

News reports over the weekend said Kirchner could also be investigated for alleged money laundering in a separate suit fanned by revelations from the Panama Papers leaks.

– Macri in Panama Papers –

Macri has sought to restore frayed relations with foreign powers such as the United States and revive the economy by reversing more than a decade of protectionist economic policy.

He was riding high after hosting US President Barack Obama last month. But last week, Macri became one of several world leaders embarrassed by the Panama Papers.

A federal prosecutor last week opened an investigation into his ties to the offshore company detailed in documents from a Panama law firm, published by international media.

Macri insisted he had “nothing to hide.”

One of Kirchner’s leading accusers, lawmaker Margarita Stolbizer, said there was “lots of material to investigate” relating to Kirchner.

Another lawmaker from a party opposed to both Kirchner and Macri, Felipe Sola, said the current case was politically motivated.

He said it is “not admissible in court but is being overdone by Bonadio.”

Returning to the public eye four months after leaving office, Kirchner reminded the country of her capacity to rally crowds.

“We experienced Nestor and Cristina’s achievements after a crisis in which we fell deep into poverty,” said one Kirchner supporter outside the courthouse, 56-year-old teacher Adriana Gonzalez.

She said the current case against Kirchner was “political persecution of those who think differently. That is not the democracy I believe in, which we fought for.”


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