Kirchner defiant after court appearance

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner refused to answer questions in a fraud inquiry, turning the event into a triumphant return before thousands of supporters

Argentina’s former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has refused to answer questions in a fraud investigation, emerging from the courthouse to claim that she and other leftist leaders in Latin America are the victims of a politically motivated conspiracy.

Thousands of enthusiastic supporters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Buenos Aires on Wednesday to cheer Fernández as she was ushered inside for closed-door questioning, and then again when she emerged a short time later.

Judge Claudio Bonadio had called Fernández to testify about her alleged role in the central bank’s decision to sell dollars on the futures market at an artificially low price in the months before leaving office in December. At the time, there was a large gap between the official rate of the peso against the dollar and the rate on the booming black market.

Bonadio says selling dollars below market rate cost the state about $5.2bn, and allowed buyers to make a lot of money on the transaction. Fernández has denied any wrongdoing.

Fernández, accompanied by her lawyer, gave Bonadio a written statement that said: “Only via an exercise in an abuse of judicial power was this case able to go forward.”

Emerging from the courthouse, Fernández gave a one-hour speech in which she suggested that she and other leftist leaders in the region had been unfairly accused of corruption by a “media, political and judicial matrix”.

Argentina’s northern neighbor Brazil is currently mired in political crisis triggered by revelations of money laundering and bribery at the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Although President Dilma Rousseff has not been directly implicated in the scandal, her political rivals are attempting to launch impeachment proceedings on other grounds, including ongoing investigations into alleged budget irregularities.

“They can call me [to testify] 20 times. They can lock me up, but they won’t make me stop saying what I think,” shouted Fernández from an improvised stage on the back of a long flatbed truck.

Bonadio has 10 days to decide whether to charge Fernández or drop her from the investigation. Fernández, in power between 2007 and 2015, does not have immunity.

When she decided not to run for another position in government last year, a move that would have afforded her certain protections, supporters said it was an indication that she was innocent of the many allegations that have swirled around her and her administration for years.

Last week the judge presiding over a separate corruption investigation said there was evidence of “a systemic plan with the objective of emptying state coffers” implicating a close friend and business associate of both Fernández and her husband Néstor Kirchner, who was president from 2003 to 2007.

But despite the cloud of accusations – and a torrential rain storm – Fernández managed to transform her court appearance into a triumphant return to the political centre-stage after four months of silence since she left office in December.

To enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, Fernández harshly criticized her right-of-centre successor, Mauricio Macri, who has himself faced scrutiny after leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed his ties with a Bahamas-based company.

“Can you imagine if they had found offshore companies in my name?” Fernández asked.

Fernández then listed some of Macri’s most contentious policies since he took office in January, including a devaluation of the Argentinian peso, a big hike in domestic electricity rates (by 500% in some cases) and a 100% rise in bus, subway and train tickets.

“I’ve never seen so many calamities take place within 120 days,” Fernández said. “They are firing people like dogs from the factories.”

The crowd responded with chants of “Macri! Trash! You are the dictatorship!”
Fernández, impeccably dressed in grey top and trousers, rounded off her speech as the rain stopped and the sky cleared.

“The sun is out,” she shouted, almost drowned out by the roar of the crowd. “The sun is always there.”

The Guardian | Uki Goñi

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