A judge in Argentina has dismissed a long-running money laundering case against Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner after prosecutors and government agencies said there was no evidence she was involved in any crime.
Federal Judge Sebastian Casanello ruled on Monday that Fernandez de Kirchner should be removed from what has come to be known as the “K-money trail” case. It concerned alleged bribes and money laundering by businessman Lazaro Baez on behalf of Fernandez de Kirchner’s family.
Prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan said late last month that there was no evidence that Fernandez de Kirchner was involved in the corruption for which Baez was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
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This is the latest case where the vice president — who also served as president from 2007 to 2015 — has been fired from an ongoing corruption-related case before going to trial.
The former president was sentenced in December to six years in prison in a separate case for fraudulent administration, which included a life ban from holding public office.
In that case, Fernandez de Kirchner was found to have favored Baez in the award of public works contracts. Baez was sentenced to six years in prison as part of that case, which had nothing to do with the “K money trail”.
The vice president’s conviction is still subject to appeal and can be appealed by higher courts, a process that could take years. In the meantime, she remains immune from arrest and the punishments of her conviction as she continues to fulfill her government role as Vice President. Argentina will hold general elections in October.
The judge’s decision came Monday as surveys show that Argentines have a general mistrust of the justice system, which is often slow and takes years to resolve cases.
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“The Argentine justice system has been infiltrated by politics,” said Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a political consultancy. “The federal courts are definitely influenced by political interests on both sides.”
That means supporters of the vice president will likely see the firing as vindication of her long-held claims of innocence, while her detractors will cite it as an example of how she got away with wrongdoing.
Baez was a close associate of both Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who served as president from 2003 to 2007. The case began with allegations that Baez was paid for public works that were never completed and that he then laundered the money on behalf of Kirchner and his wife.
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Argentina’s tax and anti-money laundering authorities also agreed that Fernandez de Kirchner, who remains politically powerful, should be removed from the 2013 case.
“Without accusation there is no possibility of a criminal trial,” Casanello wrote in his resolution.
Marijuan, the prosecutor, has said that while it’s clear there was a “close and direct personal relationship” between Baez and the vice president, it doesn’t mean she was involved in laundering an estimated $65 million.
To demonstrate their relationship, Marijuan explained that an investigation found “at least 372 telephone contacts” between Baez and Fernandez de Kirchner and her secretaries, showing that “they were more than just acquaintances from Santa Cruz and had a close connection “.
Baez was the owner of Austral Construcciones, one of the major companies favored with public works during the tenure of Fernandez de Kirchner and her late husband.
In an interview late last month, Marijuan said he has found no “evidence linking Cristina Fernandez to this case.”
Analysts linked Marijuan’s decision to a perceived friendship with Economy Secretary Sergio Massa, who is widely seen as a possible presidential candidate in October’s election, Romero said.
President Alberto Fernandez and current Vice President Fernandez de Kirchner – they are not related – have already said they will not run for president again, and there is general uncertainty about who will be the candidate for the ruling coalition.
Fernandez de Kirchner, who has long criticized the country’s justice system as corrupt, once faced numerous criminal cases. But those are slowly disappearing as judges rule that there isn’t enough evidence to hold the vice president accountable, though those decisions are still subject to review by higher courts.
A court in 2021 dismissed a case against Fernandez de Kirchner accusing her of colluding with Iran to cover up Tehran’s alleged involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
That same year, a court dismissed a case accusing the vice president and her family of profiting from a money laundering operation involving hotel rooms and real estate. Earlier, a case was also dropped accusing her of conducting fraudulent operations through the dollar futures market.
The vice president is also charged with wrongdoing in a separate case alleging that she led a corruption network to award public works during her administration.