Corruption Probes Near in on Argentina'south Fernandez

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 0:05 AM

Now, the walls seem to be closing on the fiery populist boss who typically criticized those who dared to question her management and ethics.

Corruption allegations always swirled around former President Cristina Fernandez during her two terms in office, but they never stuck.

Now, the walls seem to be closing on the fiery populist boss who typically criticized those who dared to question her management and ethics. In the past week, a federal prosecutor has asked that she be included in a widening investigation into money laundering. Her former transportation secretary and a businessman with near ties to her family were arrested in separate corruption probes that could incriminate her. A separate money-laundering probe into hotels owned by her family has been relaunched.

To top it off, she's been called to testify Wednesday in an alleged scheme to manipulate Argentina'south currency, marking the first time she's been legally summoned in an investigation against her.

"This has happened all of a sudden," said Sergio Berensztein, a local political analyst and pollster. "Four months ago, Cristina (Fernandez) was still one of the most powerful people in Argentina."

But then, she was succeeded in the presidency in December by a conservative political rival, Mauricio Macri, the former Buenos Aires mayor and son of one of the country'south richest businessmen.

Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, had been the most dominant political leaders to arrive out of Argentina in decades and are frequently credited with lifting the country out of its worst economic crisis in two thousand-first. But detractors declare their social policies contributed to spiraling inflation and criticize her combative rhetoric, the couple'south personal enrichment, and their ties to scandals. She always dismissed the accusations as lies by the press or defamations by enemies aimed at discrediting the achievements of their collective twelve years in power.

While the corruption cases seem to be getting closer to Fernandez, she hasn't been formally charged with as a suspect in any crime. When she decided not to running for another office latest year — such as senator, a move that'd have afforded her certain immunities — her supporters said it showed she'd nothing to hide.

"Of course, we think this all goes back to political motives," said Daniel Filmus, a Fernandez ally and former Argentine education minister. "This is revenge by sectors that were punished by the politics of economic growth and social equality that were led by Cristina."

Since Fernandez ended her duration in December, the new administration has promised to crack down on the corruption that's long plagued Argentina. Analysts declare that's emboldened judges who are presently more independent to pursue sensitive cases against the former boss and her near circle without fear of retribution.

"When Fernandez was president, she exercised power very forcefully and everyone was scared," Berensztein said. "But this fear has dissipated."

A once seemingly untouchable companion of the presidential couple was arrested latest week as soon as he landed in his private jet at a Buenos Aires airport. Lazaro Baez, a millionaire businessman who got public works contracts during the Kirchner and Fernandez administrations, is accused of embezzling and laundering about $5 million. When brought before a judge, he refused to testify and remains jailed.

Prosecutors began looking into Baez after a two thousand thirteen journalistic investigation named him as Kirchner'south figurehead in an elaborate scheme. The news report said Baez used his companies to launder money for the former presidents.

Argentines are accustomed to corruption scandals that grab headlines before becoming lost in slow-moving investigations. But even in a country that ranked one hundred seven out of one hundred sixty-seven on Transparency International'south annual corruption index latest year, many Argentines were shocked by recent images on local TV that showed one of Baez'south sons and others counting wads of cash at a company under investigation.

Prosecutors have said they're looking into the financial transactions at several top hotels owned by the Kirchner family in the southern province of Santa Cruz, where Fernandez has been living since she stepped down from office. Local news reports declare the hotels are generally empty, raising questions about how they generate the income they report.

Fernandez remains favorite with many Argentines. She traveled on Monday to Buenos Aires ahead of testimony she was ordered to give on Wednesday. Fernandez is suspected of being portion of a scheme to hold the Argentine peso inflated by selling derivatives below market value. The sales led to a sharp drop in central bank reserves.

Her supporters declare that the courts should instead focus on other former presidents and even Argentina'south current leader.

"In this country we've corruption cases that go back all the way to the one thousand nine hundred ninety," said Roberto Bacman, a political analyst and director of the Middle for Public Opinion Studies, a S American research firm. "It'south unusual that justice is rushing things just now."

Former President Carlos Menem'south status as a lawmaker has protected him from imprisonment, including a four ½-year sentence for embezzlement and a 7-year sentence for weapons smuggling. Earlier this year, he declined to testify in a case in which he's accused of derailing the investigation into Argentina'south worst terrorist attack.

Macri, who campaigned on promises to root out corruption, has recently drawn attention for his role in two offshore companies, including one that emerged in the recent "Panama Papers" leak. He said latest week that he'll set up a blind believe to create his finances transparent, and he's been concerned in comments about Fernandez.

When asked about Fernandez during an interview with The Associated Press latest month, Macri well-known she'd not been charged with anything. But he said he'd not stand in the way of any investigation.

Hugo Ron, who owns a newspaper stand in downtown Buenos Aires, doesn't think much of any of them.

"It seems love everything is dirty," he said. "There are number clean politicians."

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Associated Press writer Debora Rey and AP video journalist Leonardo La Valle contributed to this report.

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Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter. com/LuisAndresHenao

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