The Patagonian province of Santa Cruz was the region from which former Argentine presidents Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner built their power. That region in the extreme south of the country is now the source of its greatest judicial problems. In the final stretch of the trial that investigates irregularities in fifty public works in Santa Cruz, the Public Prosecutor’s Office on Monday accused Fernández de Kirchner, today vice president, of having led -along with her late husband- “an illegal pyramid association” intended to defraud the State through the diversion of public funds that should have been destined for road infrastructure.
“When Néstor Kirchner assumed the presidency and then his wife, Cristina Elisabet Fernández, they installed and maintained within the national and provincial administration of Santa Cruz one of the most extraordinary matrices of corruption that unfortunately and sadly have developed in the country” , said the prosecutor Diego Luciani on the first day of reading the accusatory allegations, held by videoconference before the Federal Oral Court 2. The vice president also listened to him virtually.
His harsh accusations contrast with the request for acquittal made two weeks earlier by another of the plaintiffs, the Financial Information Unit. The lawyers of the anti-money laundering organization of Argentina exempted Kirchner from all responsibility and asked for lower sentences for the imputed high-ranking provincial officials.
According to Luciani, the alleged illicit association headed by the married couple of former presidents had a vast capacity for action that was perpetuated for more than a decade with “absolute lack of control” by state agencies. The prosecutor accused them of having turned his “close friend” Lázaro Báez into a construction businessman “overnight” and of diverting huge amounts of public funds through the contracts awarded to his main company, Austral. Buildings.
“Báez’s previous job was as a bank teller. A person who had never ventured into the business sector in an untimely manner created a construction company and who was later going to take over all the construction companies in Santa Cruz,” Luciani stressed before the judges.
According to the data presented by the prosecutor throughout the morning, 78% of the road works concessioned in Santa Cruz between 2003 and 2015 went to the Báez group. They did so with unusual speed: 29 days compared to the average of 210 for the other companies. Still, the response was far from adequate. Almost half of the awarded works -24 out of a total of 51- remained unfinished and only one of them was adjusted to the original budget and did not require the disbursement of extra funds.
The trial, which began in May 2019, has Fernández de Kirchner and senior management officials charged with the crimes of illicit association and public administration fraud. Among the 13 defendants, Lázaro Báez, former Minister of Federal Planning Julio de Vido and former Secretary of Public Works José López also stand out.
Báez was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison for laundering 55 million dollars between 2003 and 2015, the highest sentence imposed for this crime in Argentina. The court also imposed a record fine of $480 million. De Vido and López also reach the end of the trial with other previous convictions.
Kirchner’s lawyers, now vice president, allege that she was unaware of the alleged fraudulent maneuvers carried out in Santa Cruz. Throughout her exposure, Luciani showed hundreds of messages that seek to break down that line of defense. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has nine days to develop its allegation against the accused.
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