Top Argentine court confirms Kirchner trial to start Tuesday

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


Argentina's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that ex-president Cristina Kirchner's corruption trial can go ahead, after protesters demonstrated against rumors the case might be delayed.

Trial is set to begin Tuesday over accusations that Kirchner favored businessman Lazaro Baez in the attribution of 52 public works contracts worth 46 billion pesos ($1.2 billion) during her 2007-15 presidency.

Her lawyers had submitted numerous appeals against the case, alleging a lack of evidence.

While the Supreme Court has decided to review the case files, it said that "doesn't suspend the process."

On Wednesday evening, demonstrators in several Buenos Aires neighborhoods banged pots and pans -- a popular local protest method -- amidst press rumors the trial would be dropped or delayed.

Jorge Gorini, president of the court that will hear the case, stressed that there has been "no change" to the May 21 trial start date.

The 66-year-old Kirchner's lawyers claim the accusations are unfounded and that there is no proof of favoritism in the awarding of public works contracts in Santa Cruz, a Kirchner stronghold, during her tenure.

Implicated in more than 10 corruption investigations, this is the first such case against Kirchner to reach court.

She is accused of having favored companies owned by Baez in Santa Cruz province during her presidency from 2007-15 and that of her late husband Nestor from 2003-07.

Nestor Kirchner was governor of Santa Cruz from 1991 until he became president.

Kirchner will appear in court alongside Baez, her former planning minister Julio De Vido, and his deputy minister Jose Lopez.

Now a center-left senator, Kirchner is protected from pre-trial detention due to her partial parliamentary immunity, which protects her from imprisonment but not prosecution.

Prosecutors say Kirchner was linked to the case by Lopez, who was caught red-handed in 2016 trying to hide a bag containing $9 million in cash in a convent near Buenos Aires.

Of the other investigations in which she has been implicated, the most high-profile is the so-called corruption notebooks scandal.

It revolves around the meticulous records kept by a government chauffeur, Oscar Centeno, of cash bribes -- allegedly worth $160 million between 2005 and 2015 -- he is said to have delivered from businessmen to government officials.

Kirchner claims to be the victim of political persecution from the center-right government of President Mauricio Macri.

The two are widely expected to lock horns in October's presidential election battle, with Kirchner leading opinion polls.