Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez slams graft trial as political ‘smokescreen’

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s populist ex-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, due in court on Tuesday to face accusations of corruption, slammed the trial as a political “smokescreen” aimed at hurting her campaign for vice president in national elections this year.

FILE PHOTO: Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (L) listens to Cabinet Chief Alberto Fernandez during a ceremony at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 31, 2008. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci/File Photo

The trial, taking place in the capital Buenos Aires, will address multiple corruption allegations dating to Fernandez’s two terms as president from 2007 to 2015, including accusations she received kickbacks from construction firms to award projects for which the state paid exorbitant amounts.

Fernandez, now a senator with an ardent following, took to Twitter ahead of the trial, firing retorts at her accusers and rival President Mauricio Macri, and defending herself against the allegations which she strongly denies.

“Clearly it’s not about justice,” she tweeted. “Just about creating a new smokescreen that aims to distract Argentines and Argentina – increasingly less successfully – from the dramatic situation our country and our people live.”

The recession-hit South American nation is heading for presidential elections in October, with center-right Macri coming under pressure from high inflation, a weak local peso currency and job losses starting to mount.

The allegations could cast a shadow over Fernandez’s political push as she looks to win over the more moderate wing of the Peronist opposition to take on Macri in elections set for October.

Fernandez shocked the nation on Saturday by saying she would run for vice president alongside unrelated former cabinet chief Alberto Fernandez, a veteran political operator who has both backed and criticized her in the past.

A leftist and militant Peronist, Cristina Fernandez had been seen as the top potential challenger to Macri.

In another tweet she said the trial was an “act of persecution” with the aim of putting an opposition candidate in the dock during an election campaign.

The charges against her could end in a sentence of up to 10 years in jail, should she be found guilty of leading a graft ring that defrauded the state of millions of dollars.

As a sitting senator, she currently has immunity from arrest, however.

Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Tom Brown and Bill Trott

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