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Argentina’s VP sentenced to six years in jail

Argentina’s VP sentenced to six years in jail
Argentina's Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. (GP)

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A court in Argentina has sentenced Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to six years in jail for corruption in a case that has shaken the country.

Fernández, 69, was found guilty of aggravated fraud and leading a conspiracy to award public works contracts to a friend.

But she is unlikely to serve jail time.

Fernández has some immunity via her government roles and is expected to launch a lengthy appeals process.

Prosecutors had sought a 12-year jail sentence and wanted her banned from holding public office for life.

Fernández said the charges against her were politically motivated and in her last appearance before the court last week, she compared it to a “firing squad”.

She also accused the prosecutors of lying and slandering her.

Prosecutors said Fernández had led an unlawful partnership during the time when she was president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015.

They said she had created a kickback scheme which steered lucrative public work contracts towards a friend of hers in return for bribes.

The businessman accused of being the main beneficiary of the scheme is Lázaro Báez, the owner of a construction firm, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison last year for money-laundering.

Fernández and Lázaro Báez are among a total of 13 people on trial whom prosecutors accused of running “a system of institutional corruption”.

The prosecutors said that they uncovered irregularities in dozens of public work tenders awarded in the southern province of Santa Cruz, Fernández’s political stronghold. Many of the construction projects were never completed.

Prosecutor Diego Luciani described it as “probably the biggest corruption operation the country has known”.

He also said the alleged kickback scheme had caused the Argentine state a loss of at least $1bn.

Fernández had vehemently denied all the allegations against her.

The case has proven highly divisive in Argentina with supporters of Fernández taking to the streets outside of her apartment in Buenos Aires to show their backing of the vice-president. At times, they have faced off with critics of Fernández, who accuse her of being a “thief”.

It was during one of these gatherings on September 1 that Fernández became the target of an assassination attempt.

A 35-year-old man pointed a gun at the vice-president’s head, but the weapon jammed as he aimed it at her.

The man has been charged with attempted murder.

Her supporters were gathering again ahead of the verdict to show their continued trust in the vice-president.

Even though she has been found guilty and sentenced to a jail term,  Fernández will not be sent to prison immediately.

As an elected senator, she enjoys a degree of immunity which means that she will be able to remain free and continue in her post while she appeals against the verdict all the way to the Supreme Court.

As the appeal process could take years, she is expected to be able to run again for the senate or even for the presidency in the 2023 election. (BBC)