February 2, 2023

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Argentine Vice President Cristina Kirchner is facing a verdict in the Reuters corruption trial

©Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks on stage during a party rally at the Diego Maradona stadium in La Plata, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

By Nicolas Misculin

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s powerful but divisive vice president, could be sentenced to 12 years in prison and barred from holding public office, with judges expected to rule in a high-profile corruption case on Tuesday.

The vice president is likely to appeal any verdict as the case winds its way through higher courts for years.

Fernandez de Kirchner, president for two terms between 2007 and 2015 and who boasts a rock-star legion of supporters, is being charged by prosecutors with alleged corruption in the award of public works. She has denied the allegations, calling the court a “firing squad.”

“It is obvious that there will be a conviction,” Fernandez de Kirchner said in an interview with the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo published on Monday. She claimed that constitutional guarantees had been violated during the trial.

However, lawyers said that Fernandez de Kirchner would not go to jail immediately because she had immunity during her tenure as vice president. She would have to be removed from office in a political process before she could go to prison.

“She currently has vice presidential privileges, which means she’s one of those officials whose removal requires a political process,” attorney Alejandro Carrio said, adding that higher courts could spend years considering appeals all the way to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t see a case of this magnitude taking less than three years to process.”

A guilty verdict could nevertheless spark angry reactions from supporters of Fernandez de Kirchner, who took to the streets after she survived an assassination attempt earlier this year. The country is strained after a long economic crisis and inflation heading towards 100%.

It could also cast a shadow over President Alberto Fernandez’s ruling Peronist government, which faces an uphill battle to fend off a challenge from the conservative opposition in next year’s general election.

Prosecutors allege that public works contracts were awarded to a businessman associated with Fernandez de Kirchner, who then funneled money back to her and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, also a former president.

Defense attorneys for the vice president say she is a victim of legal prosecution.

If Fernandez de Kirchner were banned from public office, the ramifications could be significant, said Julio Burdman, director of the Election Observatory Advisory Service.

“Relationships between the ruling coalition and the opposition would be very tense and the ruling party as a whole would react strongly, denouncing it as persecution,” he said.