Argentina’s Kirchner charged with fraud, assets frozen

Argentina’s Kirchner charged with fraud, assets frozen

Judge says former president ordered currency trade operation which cost the Latin American country hundreds of millions of dollars

Argentina's then-president Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires on January 30, 2015. (AFP Photo/Alejandro Pagni)
Argentina's then-president Cristina Kirchner in Buenos Aires on January 30, 2015. (AFP Photo/Alejandro Pagni)

BUENOS AIRES — Assets belonging to former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner were frozen Friday after she was charged with damaging national finances by manipulating the Central Bank’s exchange operations during her last months in office.

Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio said it was “evident that the then president gave instructions — which without a doubt were developed jointly — to her economy minister to carry out the financial operation,” according to a statement released on the Supreme Court’s website.

Bonadio ordered assets worth 15 million pesos’ ($1 million) held by Kirchner to be frozen.

He delivered the same charge and asset freeze against Axel Kicillof, Kirchner’s minister of the economy from 2013 to 2015, and against former Central Bank president Alejandro Vanoli and 12 other former members of its board.

Kirchner, who held office from 2007 to 2015, is accused of having caused a loss in monetary authority through speculative dollar sales by the Central Bank at the end of 2015, just before the election of center-right President Mauricio Macri.

According to the current government, which opposed Kirchner, the operation caused a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to Latin America’s third-largest economy.

Kirchner’s defenders say that the issue cannot be taken to court as it concerns disagreements over monetary policy aimed at maintaining the value of the peso.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri addressing delegates of the World Jewish Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 15, 2016. (World Jewish Congress)
Argentine President Mauricio Macri addressing delegates of the World Jewish Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 15, 2016. (World Jewish Congress)

On December 16, just six days after taking office, Macri ordered measures that led to a 34-percent devaluation of the Argentine peso, resulting in an exchange rate of one dollar per 15 pesos.

Kirchner, 63, left office in December after two consecutive terms and is no longer protected by political immunity.

The leftist former leader appeared in court in mid-April, where she refused to answer questions and instead presented a document demanding Judge Bonadio’s dismissal.

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

Kirchner has also been implicated in an embezzlement case, and along with her son, has been swept up in legal proceedings over irregularities in family real-estate activities.

In its last year, her presidency was also rocked by the scandal surrounding the death of Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor who was investigating the 1994 AMIA bombing and Iran’s role in the terror attack.

Nisman was found dead in January 2015 with a gunshot wound to the head. Though initially ruled a suicide, many suspected foul play.

Days before, Nisman had accused former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of helping Iranian officials hide Iran’s role in the attack. Fernandez has denied the allegations.

Bipartisan allegations of corruption

Several former Kirchner administration officials have been tainted by allegations of corruption, but the Macri administration also faces problems.

Former planning minister Julio De Vido faces criminal negligence charges for his poor administration of the railroad system, which resulted in a 2012 train crash that killed 51 people and injured 700.

In April two former transportation secretaries, Ricardo Jaime and Juan Pablo Schiavi, were indicted on bribery and fraud charges relating to the purchase of used train stock from Spain and Portugal.

Lazaro Baez, a wealthy entrepreneur close to the Kirchners who obtained lucrative public works contracts, is in prison while he is investigated on money laundering charges.

President Macri himself is being investigated for alleged links to offshore companies named in the Panama Papers tax evasion revelations.

Nestor Grindetti, a mayor and Macri confidant, is being probed for links to offshore tax havens and was earlier linked to a case of tax evasion in Brazil.

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