Kirchner corruption trial opens in Argentina

Buenos Aires (AFP) –


Former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner arrived in court Tuesday for the start of a corruption trial that will unfold as the country heads towards general elections in October.

Kirchner, 66, is accused of favoring a businessman friend, Lazaro Baez, for lucrative road construction contracts in Argentina's southern Santa Cruz province. The charges date from her two terms as Argentina's president from 2007-2015.

In a message on Twitter hours before her court appearance, she dismissed the trial as a "smokescreen" intended to distract voters from the country's "dramatic" economic problems.

"It is a new act of persecution with a single objective: to place a former president opposed to this government on the defendants' bench during a full presidential campaign," she wrote.

Kirchner, widely tipped in opinion polls to beat incumbent Mauricio Macri in a presidential run-off, surprised supporters at the weekend by announcing she would instead seek the vice presidency.

Despite a series of corruption scandals, Kirchner has retained strong support, particularly among the poorest Argentines who are bearing the brunt of Macri's economic policies.

Unemployment and social unrest is growing amid high inflation and a weak peso.

That helped make her a favorite in polling ahead of the October 27 presidential election, with some surveys putting her ahead of Macri.

Judge Claudio Bonadio had asked that Kirchner be held in pre-trial detention, but the parliamentary immunity she enjoys as a senator spared her.

The trial in Buenos Aires' Comodoro Py courthouse is expected to take a year. Kirchner's attendance at the opening is compulsory, but she can send a representative to the subsequent weekly hearings.

Twelve other people are accused in the case, including Baez, Julio De Vido, a former minister, and a former government official Jose Lopez.

The trial opening Tuesday is the first in a string of 12 corruption cases Kirchner faces.