Federal Court judges today published a 1,616-page document explaining why they decided to sentence Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to six years in prison and a lifelong ban from public office in the “Vialidad” case. The conviction is for fraudulent administration while she was president.
Argentina’s VP and former president was sentenced in a bombshell ruling in December 2022. The “Vialidad” case pertains to corruption in public works in the province of Santa Cruz where CFK, businessmen, and former officials were investigated.
Fernández de Kirchner was accused of arranging for 51 public works contracts in Santa Cruz to be granted to a company belonging to Lázaro Báez, a business associate of her and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner.
The judges wrote that they believe the Kirchners “protected” and “were complicit” in the dealings by using state institutions to “guarantee the unlimited business activity controlled by Lázaro Báez”.
According to the judges, Cristina and Néstor formed a “criminal organization” to extract funds from the State by manipulating public works contracts in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz. The other participants included former officials Julio de Vido, José Francisco López, Carlos Santiago Kirchner and Nelson Guillermo Periotti, who held responsibilities for public works and national roads, and businessmen Lázaro Báez.
“Part of the money would make its way back to Néstor and Cristina Kirchner through different manoeuvers such as money laundering in hotel businesses and property rentals,” said the Judges.
“What’s truly relevant for this sentence is to show that state institutions were complicit and protected the businesses run by Lázaro Antonio Báez”, wrote judges Rodrigo Giménes Uriburu, Jorge Gorini and Andrés Basso, of Federal Court 2, in the document.
The sentence marks the first time a sitting vice president has been convicted of a crime in Argentina.
Lázaro Báez received a six-year sentence for being a necessary participant in the crimes. Former head of National Roads, Nelson Periotti, and the former secretary of Public Works, José López, received the same sentence. Former officials in roads management and Santa Cruz government were sentenced to four and five years.
The defendants had also been investigated for illicit association, but they were all acquitted by the Judges for that crime.
The defense will have ten working days to appeal the verdict in the Criminal Federal Court of Appeals. Kirchner’s sentence does not take effect until she has exhausted all her appeals, which is likely to take years. She is not expected to spend time in jail because of her age.
Fernández de Kirchner has consistently denied wrongdoing in the Vialidad case and says the case against her is politically motivated “lawfare” – the weaponization of the judiciary and hostile media outlets to persecute her.
She has also pointed out that Congress approved the public works projects she managed, and that awards had been made through public bids where each province was responsible.
She described the proceedings as “a firing squad aimed at stigmatizing a political space, particularly the person who leads it.”
In today’s document, the judges stated that CFK’s claims of “lawfare” and prosecutorial misconduct are a “conspiracy theory as old as the State,” and that her defense is a “media and extrajudicial” one.
On Tuesday, at an event to honor the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo in the Senate, CFK said that Argentina’s judiciary had replaced the military to suppress political change.
“Disappearances, torture, death, and jail would not be tolerated today,” she said, referring to dictatorship-era atrocities. But “there are more subtle ways of halting dreams,” she added. “Now, it’s not with tanks but maybe in Courts, and in some media outlets: times are different, but disciplining continues to be effective.”
Kirchner said when she was sentenced in December: “I won’t be a candidate, my name won’t be on any ballot,” claiming her sentence was the result of an alliance between “a parallel State and a judiciary mafia.”
However, La Cámpora – a kirchnerite social movement led by CFK’s son, Máximo Kirchner – is organizing a massive event in Avellaneda on Saturday to demand she run for the presidency this year.