Argentina's President Fernandez Charged in Probe of Alleged Cover-Up

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Argentine Prosecutor Charges President With Cover-Up

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was formally accused by a prosecutor of trying to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in the bombing of a Jewish center that killed 85 people.

In a document filed to a federal court, Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita said Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, lawmaker Andres Larroque and other government supporters tried to remove Iranian officials from Interpol lists in exchange for trade preferences with the Islamic republic. Pollicita’s 62-page statement was posted on the prosecutor general’s website.

The charges will overshadow Fernandez’s last 10 months in office as she struggles to revive growth in South America’s second-biggest economy and repair relations with investors after last year’s default. The accusations come one month after former prosecutor in the case, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his apartment with a bullet to the head. Investigators have yet to determine if it was suicide or murder.

“This could be a seismic change for Argentina’s political environment,” said Carl Meacham, Americas program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “You have an economic crisis on the horizon and you marry that with a political crisis, it could be a disaster for Argentina.”

Argentina’s $3.25 billion of local law dollar-denominated bonds due in 2024 rose 1.25 percent to 102.9 cents on the dollar at 5:18 p.m. in Buenos Aires.

‘Vulgar Lie’

Fernandez, 61, has denied the accusations against her and said last month that Nisman may have been murdered in order to sully the image of her government.

Judge Daniel Rafecas must now decide whether the evidence of a cover-up is admissible and whether to pursue the case, said Hernan Munilla Lacasa, a professor in criminal law at the Universidad Catolica Argentina in Buenos Aires. Fernandez can be called on to testify, though as president she has the right to do so in writing and not in person.

Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich early Friday said the accusations and a march planned for Feb. 18 to commemorate Nisman’s death were part of a “judicial coup” against the president.

“The Argentine people should know that we’re talking about a vulgar lie, of an enormous media operation, of a strategy of political destabilization and the biggest judicial coup d’etat in the history of Argentina to cover up for the real perpetrators of the crime,” Capitanich said at his daily press conference.

Drag On

Chief of Staff Anibal Fernandez told reporters the march is being organized by “drug traffickers,” “anti-Semites,” and prosecutors who tried to obstruct the investigation into the so-called AMIA bombing in 1994 that killed 85 people.

Before Pollicita submitted his accusation, the Treasury Attorney-General’s Office, which represents the state in litigation cases, filed a defense against Nisman’s complaint. No government official has commented since the charges were brought.

The case is likely to drag on beyond the end of Fernandez’s term, said Martin Galli Basualdo, a lawyer at Buenos Aires-based Cassagne Abogados. It’s not clear if she can be found guilty and sentenced while benefiting from presidential immunity, he said.

‘Unchartered Territory’

“This has never happened, it’s unchartered territory,” Galli Basualdo said by phone from Buenos Aires. To maintain her immunity after December, she will need to put herself “forward in the elections as a governor, senator or lawmaker.”

It’s up to Congress to remove the president’s immunity through an impeachment process. Fernandez’s Victory Front and allies hold majorities in both houses of Congress.

Public Prosecutor Alejandra Gils Carbo today named three prosecutors and a coordinator to replace Nisman in the main investigation into the bombing. If those prosecutors decide to stop probing whether Iranian officials were involved and instead pursue other theories, such as that it was carried out by Syria and Hezbollah, the case against Fernandez would also probably be dropped, said Galli Basualdo.

Charges of alleged graft against Vice President Amado Boudou haven’t resulted in his removal from office and indicate that Fernandez is likely to reach the end of her term, according to Eurasia Group’s Daniel Kerner. Boudou says he’s innocent.

“Proving that something illegal occurred won’t be easy,” Kerner wrote in an e-mailed report today. “This probably won’t have any short term implications in terms of CFK’s position.”

Nisman was appointed by Fernandez’s late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, in 2004 to investigate the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

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