Thousands to Rally to Argentina's Fernandez as Court Case Begins

  • Fernandez appears for first time since relinquishing power
  • She faces a string of judicial cases about alleged corruption

Thousands of supporters will cheer on former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as she starts a fight for her political future during a court appearance Wednesday after returning to Buenos Aires for the first time since November’s election.

Fernandez, whose favored candidate was defeated in a closely-fought runoff vote after she governed the country for eight years, has been called to testify about alleged irregularities in dollar futures trading that led to losses of almost $4 billion for the central bank. Her allies say no crime was involved and that she’s being persecuted politically.

It’s the first of a string of cases involving money-laundering and corruption allegations that Fernandez is likely to face as the judicial system investigates her and former members of her administration. The legal cases will make it difficult for her to impose herself as the leader of a united Peronist opposition to President Mauricio Macri, said Alejandro Catterberg, director of polling firm Poliarquia.

“I don’t know if she’ll end up in prison, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cristina will have to spend many, many years answering questions in legal cases, as has happened with other ex-presidents of this country,” Catterberg said by phone from Buenos Aires. “It’s going to cause her to lose even more popularity and creates more incentives for traditional Peronism to go elsewhere.”

In spite of holding a majority in the Senate, Fernandez’s allies lost a vote in Congress last month on an agreement to resolve a 15-year legal battle with disgruntled creditors from the 2001 default. As president, she had refused to abide by a court ruling ordering her to pay the holdouts led by Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, whom she called “vulture funds.” The standoff resulted in the second default in 13 years.

The Allegations

Fernandez faces allegations that under her watch the central bank sold dollar futures at artificially low rates during the presidential elections knowing that the new administration would devalue the peso. The bank, headed at the time by Alejandro Vanoli, sold $17 billion of futures contracts between September and November, according to a Feb. 26 order issued by Judge Claudio Bonadio.

One of Macri’s first measures after assuming office on Dec. 10 was to lift currency controls and let the peso float, causing a devaluation of about 30 percent.

A prosecutor also said on Sunday that there are grounds to investigate about her alleged involvement in a money laundering ring with a construction contractor who worked on her hotel projects in Patagonia, Clarin reported.

Fernandez landed in Buenos Aires late Monday on a flight from Calafate and was greeted by a crowd of about 5,000 supporters waving flags and playing drums. An even bigger crowd is expected to cheer her when she appears in court Wednesday.

The allegations against Fernandez come at a time when Macri also faces an investigation about several offshore companies connected to his father’s construction conglomerate revealed in the so-called Panama papers. Macri said he was never a shareholder in Fleg Trading Ltd, a company registered in Panama that listed him as a director. On Tuesday, he said he’d only recently heard of the existence of another, Metro Consulting PTY, that is linked to his father’s holding company.

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