Argentine senate to vote on Kirchner immunity

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


Argentine lawmakers are to vote Wednesday on whether to allow investigators to search the homes of former president Cristina Kirchner as part of the so-called corruption notebooks case.

Claudio Bonadio, the judge leading the investigation, has petitioned the Senate to partially lift Kirchner's immunity to allow several of her residences to be searched.

As a senator, Kirchner enjoys congressional immunity from imprisonment, though not prosecution.

The 65-year-old is facing trial in several other corruption cases and has accused Bonadio of carrying out "judicial persecutions" aimed at derailing a possible run for the presidency next year.

Senators began debating Bonadio's request in the early afternoon, with Kirchner and most other Senators present.

Last week, the senate was unable to muster a quorum to debate the request.

In a letter to lawmakers released on Tuesday, Kirchner said she was willing to allow searches of her homes in Buenos Aires, Santa Cruz and El Calafate but asked that they rule out the presence of cameras.

Thousands of people demonstrated outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires late Tuesday, demanding that Senators authorize the searches.

"Prison for Cristina!" protesters shouted, and also "Give back the money!"

As the Senate debated on Wednesday, a handful of her supporters awaited the decision outside, waving pro-Kirchner banners. Another small group demonstrated nearby, demanding lawmakers end her immunity.

More than a dozen elite businessmen and former government officials were arrested after La Nacion newspaper reported on August 1 that millions in bribes were delivered by a ministerial chauffeur to Kirchner's residences, both during her presidency and that of her late husband Nestor.

The driver's meticulous records of the cash deliveries -- allegedly payments from business leaders in exchange for public works contracts -- form the basis of the investigation.

Kirchner is being investigated in five other cases, ranging from alleged foreign exchange manipulation to the signing of a memorandum with Tehran that Bonadio argues effectively protected Iranian suspects in the deadly 1994 bombing of Argentine Jewish centers.