Buenos Aires (AFP) – Argentina’s ex-president Cristina Kirchner rejected Wednesday fraud accusations against her as a political plot by the new conservative government, which is separately implicated in the “Panama Papers” scandal.
Called to testify over speculative dollar sales by Argentina’s central bank, the leftist former leader turned the event into a media spectacle as crowds of her supporters rallied outside the courthouse.
The case has raised political tensions after Kirchner’s conservative successor, President Mauricio Macri, denied wrongdoing after the Panama Papers revealed he had links to an offshore company.
Returning to the public eye four months after leaving office, Kirchner, 63, reminded Argentina of her capacity to rally crowds.
“They can summon me 20 times to court, they can put me in prison, but what they cannot do is silence me,” Kirchner said in an hour-long speech after she emerged from court.
She denied the accusations that her government mishandled public funds in speculative dollar transactions in September.
“I will face up to this case and any other one that they want to fabricate against me,” she wrote in a declaration filed with the court and published on her Facebook page.
The judge investigating the case, Claudio Bonadio, is an open critic of Kirchner, who in the past tried to have him dismissed from his post.
Kirchner was being questioned so that Bonadio can decide whether to charge her.
Kirchner’s allegations of a vendetta against her fueled tensions in Argentina, where Macri is pushing through sensitive economic reforms and trying to mend foreign relations.
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 measures to liberalize the Argentine economy, Latin America’s third biggest. Kirchner’s supporters say his public job cuts and price rises are hurting poorer families.
“We experienced Nestor and Cristina’s achievements after a crisis in which we fell deep into poverty,” said one Kirchner supporter, 56-year-old teacher Adriana Gonzalez.
She said the current case against Kirchner was “political persecution of those who think differently.”
She was among thousands who rallied outside the courthouse in 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 in the crowd.
– 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 gained a boost on Wednesday when a US court ruling cleared the way for Argentina to settle a long battle over its foreign debt and return to world capital markets.
Macri 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 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.”
The Panama Papers also named a top former aide of the Kirchners as owner of an offshore fund.
The former economy minister and former central bank chairman under Cristina Kirchner’s administration 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 leaks.