Argentina’s Fernandez charged with treason, judge orders arrest

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – A federal judge in Argentina indicted former President Cristina Fernandez for treason and asked for her arrest for trying to cover up Iran’s possible role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people, a court ruling said.

FILE PHOTO: Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gestures during a swearing in ceremony for senators at the Argentine Senate in Buenos Aires, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

As Fernandez is a senator, Congress would first have to vote to strip her of parliamentary immunity for an arrest to occur. The judge, Claudio Bonadio, also indicted and ordered house arrest for Fernandez’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, the 491-page ruling said.

Fernandez and Timerman have previously denied wrongdoing. Fernandez called a news conference for 4:30 p.m. local time (1930 GMT). Timerman’s lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

While removing immunity from congressional officials is rare in Argentina, Congress voted on Oct. 25 to do so for Fernandez’s former planning minister Julio De Vido and he was arrested the same day. De Vido is accused of fraud and corruption, which he denies.

Cases involving Fernandez and her allies have picked up, with several high profile arrests and indictments in recent months, after Mauricio Macri, the center-right mayor of Buenos Aires, was elected president in late 2015. Fernandez has high rejection rates in Argentina and left office just a few months before Congress in neighboring Brazil impeached another leftist female leader, Dilma Rousseff.

Earlier on Thursday, two lower level allies of Fernandez were arrested based on the same ruling from Bonadio: Carlos Zannini, a legal adviser, and Luis D‘Elia, the leader of a group of protesters allied with her government.

Zannini’s lawyer, Alejandro Baldin, told local media the detention of his client was “arbitrary, illegal and ran over constitutional and individual rights,” after leaving a police station in Rio Gallegos, where Zannini is held.

D‘Elia’s lawyer, Adrian Albor, told radio Del Plata that Bonadio had no respect for the law, rights, justice. “They are coming for everyone in the previous government.”

An Argentine appeals court a year ago ordered the re-opening of an investigation into the possibility of a cover-up in connection with the bombing. In January 2015, the prosecutor who initially made the accusation, Alberto Nisman, was found shot dead in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment.

The death was classified as a suicide, though an official investigating the case has said the shooting appeared to be a homicide. Nisman’s body was discovered hours before he was to brief Congress on the bombing of the center.

Nisman said Fernandez worked behind the scenes to clear Iran and normalize relations to clinch a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.

UP TO CONGRESS

Bonadio wrote in his ruling that evidence in the case showed Iran, with the help of Argentine citizens, had appeared to achieve its goal of avoiding being declared a “terrorist” state by Argentina.

The crime of treason is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison, Argentina’s maximum sentence. The next step would be an oral trial and sentences can be appealed on first instance, which could be a long process.

Macri’s leader in the Senate, Federico Pinedo, said on Twitter Congress would analyze the request to strip immunity “with sincerity and responsibility.”

Argentina’s legislature has entered a period of judicial recess until March but can be convened for urgent matters.

Macri’s coalition performed better than expected in Oct. 22 mid-term elections, gaining seats in Congress. Fernandez, a leftist populist who governed from 2007 to 2015, finished second to a Macri ally in a Senate race in Buenos Aires province but won a seat under Argentina’s list system.

She was also indicted in late 2016 on charges she ran a corruption scheme with her public works secretary. Fernandez has admitted there may have been corruption in her government but personally denies wrongdoing.

Reporting by Jorge Otaola, Eliana Raszewski, Nicolas Misculin and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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