Former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner appeared in court this morning for questioning over allegations of ‘public fraud’ in future currency trades conducted by the Central Bank while she was in office.
After presenting a written statement to the court, Fernández gave a lengthy speech to thousands of supporters who had gathered outside the Comodoro Py courthouse.
“They can put me in prison, but they can’t silence me,” said Fernández to a jubilant crowd that had waited most of the morning in the rain. Her hour-long speech, the first in public since she left office, included sharp criticism of incumbent president Mauricio Macri and the judicial investigations she is now facing.
“They kept saying that I would have some public title so as to have protection [from prosecution], but I don’t need that, I have the protection given to me by the people in two consecutive elections.”
The two-term ex-president also called for a new “citizen’s front” to resist conservative policies carried out by the current administration. “You must create a front where no-one asks anybody who they voted for, which union they belong to, or if they are working or retired. Where they just ask if they are better now than they were before. That is the point where Argentines can unite: demanding the rights that they have snatched from us.”
Police estimated that around 12,000 people attended the rally, which was organised by Kirchnerist activist groups including La Cámpora and Movimiento Evita. Those groups claimed the number was much higher.
The march passed mostly without incident, except an ugly scene when journalist Mercedes Ninci was insulted and forcefully ejected from an enclosed area by activists. Media organisations condemned the aggression towards Ninci, who works for Clarín’s Radio Mitre and Canal 13 .
Fernández returned to Buenos Aires after being legally summoned by Judge Claudio Bonadio, who is investigating whether the Central Bank’s trading of dollar futures at a price below the market value at the time amounts to “public fraud.”
The futures contracts, which fix an exchange rate for a future date, have reportedly cost the state millions of pesos as a result of the devaluation carried out by the new government.
Fernández presented a written statement to Judge Bonadío today, but refused to answer questions. The statement, which the ex-president also published on social media, criticised the judiciary and the current government led by President Mauricio Macri for what she said was an arbitrary and politically-motivated accusation.
“Every time a national and popular political movement was overturned or finished its mandate, the authorities that followed systematically discredited its leaders, attributing serious crimes linked to abuses of power, corruption, and unlawful gains to them,” read the statement.
“The [government’s] austerity and misery plan again requires defamation and slander to be implemented… they’ve accused us, attempted to devalue the currency ‘judicially,’ forced the Central Bank president to resign, devalued the currency and now, with the judiciary’s help, they are trying to blame us before the public for the measures and decisions they have taken.”
Former Economy Minister Axel Kicillof and ex-Central Banker Alejandro Vanoli are also being investigated in the case, and have already provided written statements.
In his testimony presented yesterday, Kicillof stated that: “there is no crime, neither corruption nor bribery crimes by no official from the Central Bank or the previous government.” He also added: “All central banks in the world carry out control practices; it is a normal and regular operation in foreign exchange policy.”
Cristina Fernández also currently faces other criminal investigations. On Saturday, she was formally accused by a Federal Prosector of taking part in a money laundering scheme involving Lázaro Baez, a businessman and close associate of the Kirchner family. Baez is currently being detained after being questioned last week.
The former president is also facing a probe into alleged financial irregularities and corruption at Hotesur, the company that manages her high-end hotels in Patagonia. The hotels allegedly rented out rooms to companies that benefited from public works contracts, with investigators seeking to establish if this was a mechanism to launder money obtained unlawfully.