© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks onstage during a party rally inside the Diego Maradona stadium, in La Plata, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian
By Nicolás Misculin
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s powerful but divisive vice president, could be handed a 12-year jail sentence and be disqualified from holding public office, with judges expected to rule on Tuesday in a high-profile corruption case.
The vice president is likely to appeal any sentence with the case spending years winding through higher courts.
Fernandez de Kirchner, president for two terms between 2007 and 2015 and who commands rock-star crowds of supporters, is facing charges by prosecutors of alleged corruption in the awarding of public works. She has denied the allegations and called the court a “firing squad.”
“It is evident that there is going to be a conviction,” Fernandez de Kirchner said in an interview with Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo published on Monday. She alleged constitutional guarantees were violated during the process.
Lawyers said, however, that Fernandez de Kirchner would not go to jail any time soon as she had immunity while serving as vice president. She would need to be removed from office in a political trial before she could be sent to prison.
“She currently has privileges as vice president, which means she is one of the officials whose removal requires a political trial,” said lawyer Alejandro Carrio, adding that higher courts could spend years going over appeals up to the Supreme Court.
“I do not see the process with a case of this magnitude taking less than three years.”
A guilty sentence could nonetheless trigger angry reactions from supporters of Fernandez de Kirchner, who gathered in the streets after she survived an assassination attempt earlier this year. The country is on edge after a long economic crisis and inflation heading toward 100%.
It could also cast a shadow over the ruling Peronist government of President Alberto Fernandez, which is facing a tough battle to fend off a challenge from the conservative opposition in general elections set for next year.
Prosecutors allege public works contracts were handed to a businessman ally of Fernandez de Kirchner, who then channeled money back to her and late husband Nestor Kirchner, also a former president.
Defenders of the vice president say she is a victim of judicial persecution.
If Fernandez de Kirchner were disqualified from public office, that could have a significant impact, said Julio Burdman, director of the Electoral Observatory consultancy.
“The relationship between the ruling coalition and opposition would be greatly strained and the ruling party as a whole would react strongly and denounce it as persecution,” he said.