Ex-Argentine president in court in central bank fraud probe

By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA 14 April 2016, 12:00AM

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez proclaimed she was the victim of political persecution on Wednesday after appearing before a local judge in a state fraud investigation.

Thousands of supporters gathered outside the courthouse cheered as Fernandez was ushered inside with her lawyer for closed-door questioning. They cheered again when she came out a short time later after presenting a written statement that said: "Only via an exercise in an abuse of judicial power was this case able to go forward."

Supporters held signs that said "Don't touch Cristina!" and "We'll return" to power.

Judge Claudio Bonadio had called Fernandez to testify about her alleged role in the central bank's decision to sell dollars on the futures market at an artificially low price in the months before leaving office in December. At the time, there was a large gap between the official rate of the peso against the dollar and the rate on the booming black market. Bonadio says selling dollars below market rate cost the state about $5.2 billion, and allowed buyers to make a lot of money on the transaction.

Fernandez has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the transaction did not cause losses to the central bank. Instead, she blamed any possible negative effects on what she called President Mauricio Macri's "devaluation."

Just days after taking office in December, Macri lifted unpopular restrictions on buying foreign currencies saying they hurt businesses at home and scared away international investors. The decision led to a sharp drop of the Argentine peso against the U.S. dollar. The restrictions were issued when Fernandez was in power in an attempt to stem capital flight.

In a fiery speech similar to the ones she often gave during her eight years in office, Fernandez also blasted her critics and said she had nothing to hide.

"They can call me (to testify) 20 times. They can lock me up, but they won't make me stop saying what I think," she said to thousands of onlookers.

She also criticized Macri for firing thousands of state workers hired under her watch and drawing back on social policies created during her administration. Fernandez also questioned her successor's recent links to offshore companies that emerged in the "Panama Papers" links. Macri, a conservative who ran for office on promises to crack down on corruption, has repeatedly said that they were family businesses and that he was a figurehead who received no compensation.

Bonadio has 10 days to decide whether to charge Fernandez or drop her from the probe. Fernandez, in power from 2007-2015, lacks immunity. When she decided not to run for another position in government last year, a move that would have afforded her certain protections, supporters said it was an indication that she was innocent of the many allegations that have swirled around her and her administration for years.

A federal prosecutor also recently asked to include Fernandez in two separate investigations involving allegations of money laundering. In addition, a businessman with close ties to her family has been arrested in another corruption probe.


By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA 14 April 2016, 12:00AM

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