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Argentina's Ex-President Wants Everyone to Know She's Not Scared of Corruption Probes

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s defiance was on display this week when she told 15,000 supporters, who had accompanied her to a court hearing, that she will never bow to the political persecution she says are behind the allegations.

by Gaston Cavanagh
Apr 14 2016, 4:30pm

Imagen por Natacha Pisarenko/EPA

Just three months after she left office, dark clouds are chasing Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the form of several cases of alleged corruption and fraud. But the former Argentine president is fighting back by demonstrating that she remains a formidable political force.

Her defiance was on full display this week when she turned up at the court that is investigating her alleged role in a massive currency manipulation scheme accompanied by around 15,000 adoring supporters.

"They can call me to testify 20 times, they can lock me up in prison, but I will always be with you," Fernández told the crowd after the hearing on Wednesday in which she filed a short statement and refused to answer questions. "They will not shut me up. Leaders do not change history, it is the people who do that."

The demonstrations were organized by Máximo Kirchner, Fernández's son. He heads a Kirchnerista youth organization called La Cámpora that was put in charge of the former president's security and asked reporters covering the event for identification.

Fernández was called to court because of an investigation into the allegation that the central bank deliberately sold dollars cheap on the futures market in the months before she left office in December.

The Judge heading the probe, Claudio Bonadío, has alleged that Fernández masterminded the maneuver that was done in the knowledge that her successor as president, the right-wing Mauricio Macri, would devalue the Argentine peso as soon as he took office. This, the judge has argued, meant the central bank would inevitably lose at least $2 billion.

Related: Argentina's President Macri Urges Congress to End 15-Year Feud with 'Vulture Funds'

Fernández and Judge Bonadío have clashed before. Last August when she was still president, she called him "a gunman, a mobster, and a blackmailer." Bonadío is an expert marksman and reputedly collects Glock pistols.

The alleged fraud is just one of the judicial swords currently hanging over the former president's head.

Last Friday, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuán formally requested that Kirchner and her former minister of planning, Julio de Vido, be included within a money laundering probe known in Argentina as the Route of the K-Money.

The case started in 2013 when a journalistic investigation linked businessman and government contractor Lázaro Báez — who was a close friend Fernandez's late husband and predecessor as president, Néstor Kirchner — allegedly channeled money intended for public infrastructure to tax havens. Báez was unexpectedly detained last week.

Also last week Leonardo Fariña, a former deputy who is already serving a sentence for tax evasion and is also involved in the K-Money case, pleaded guilty to being one of the architects of the scheme. He mentioned the former president in his testimony.

Related: Activists Fear the History of Argentina's Dirty War Is About to Be Rewritten

Fernández is also pursued within the so-called Hotesur case. Hotels owned by the Kirchner family are under investigation for their ties with businessmen like Báez who allegedly paid large amounts of money to book rooms they never occupied. The former president is also allegedly associated with a tax fraud case involving a company owned by Lázaro Báez.

With the allegations getting ever closer Fernández used her statement filed before the court on Wednesday, and later posted on her Facebook page, to compare herself to Argentina's legendary president Juan Domingo Perón, and accuse the current administration of Mauricio Macri of inventing the accusation.

"Only via an exercise in an abuse of judicial power was this case able to go forward," she wrote. "I've said it publicly before and I will say it one more time: I am not afraid of them."

Both in her statement and during her one-hour speech to the crowd on Wednesday, Férnandez also questioned President Macri over the revelations about him in the massive leak on the offshore interests of the world's elite known as the Panama Papers.

Last week, a prosecutor accused president Macri of "malicious omission" for not including his involvement in offshore companies, one of which was revealed by the Panama Papers, within the sworn declaration of his assets presented when he was mayor of Buenos Aires in 2007 and 2008.

Like his predecessor, President Macri has insisted that he did nothing wrong because, he says, he did not actually own any shares in the companies. The revelations, however, have made it harder for him to maintain his claim to be the leader of a crusade against corruption and opaque government.

Related: Argentine Prosecutor Wants President Macri Investigated Because of the Panama Papers

Macri has made few comments on the cases circling Férnandez de Kirchner, other than to call her dramatic court attendance "unfortunate."

His vice president, Gabriela Michetti, was more loquacious.

"If I had to go to answer to justice I would be worried and anxious, but instead we saw jumping and screaming, fiesta, happiness and speeches as if nothing were happening," she told reporters. "We heard the same message we have heard millions of times, where they are always right and she [Fernández] is the great defender of the poor."

Pollster Artemio López said that Fernández's show of force outside the court was particularly significant because it did not have the support of Peronista governors who appear to be working with the Macri government.

"The court hearing was an excuse, this was a political act that achieved its goal," he said. "Cristina showed today that she is still central in Argentine politics."

Follow Gaston Cavanagh on Twitter: @gastoncavanagh