BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A judge in Argentina on Monday dismissed a long-running money laundering case against Vice President Cristina Fernández, after prosecutors and state agencies said there was no evidence she was involved in a crime.
Federal Judge Sebastian Casanello ruled that Fernández be removed from what had come to be known as the “K money trail” case because it involved alleged kickbacks and money laundering on behalf of Fernández’s family by businessman Lázaro Báez.
Prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan said late last month there was no evidence that Fernández, a former president from 2007 to 2015, was involved in the corruption for which Báez has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
This marks the latest instance in which the vice president has been dismissed from an ongoing corruption-related case before it reaches trial.
In contrast with the dismissals, the former president was sentenced in December of last year to six years in prison in a separate case for fraudulent administration, which included a lifetime ban on holding public office, for favoring Báez in the awarding of public works contracts. Báez was sentenced to six years in prison as part of that case which was unrelated to the “K money trail” that specifically deals with money laundering allegations.
The vice president’s conviction can still be appealed and reviewed by higher courts, a process that could take years. She remains immune from arrest in the meantime ahead of October elections.
The decision came as Argentines have a general distrust of the justice system which is often slow and takes years to resolve cases.
“The Argentine justice system is infiltrated by politics,” said Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a political consulting firm. “The federal courts are absolutely influenced by political interests from both sides.”
That means supporters of the vice president are likely to see the dismissal as vindication to her long-held claims of innocence while her opponents will cite it as an example of how she got away with wrongdoing.
Báez was close associate of both Fernández and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who was president from 2003-2007. The case began with allegations that Báez was paid for public works contracts that were never completed and that he then laundered that money on behalf of Kirchner and his wife.
Argentina’s tax agency and anti-money laundering agency also agreed that Fernández, who remains politically powerful, should be removed from the case dating back to 2013.
“Without an accusation, there is no possibility of a criminal process,” Casanello wrote in his resolution.
Marijuan had said that while it is clear that there was a “close and direct personal relationship” between Báez and the vice president, that does not mean she was involved in the money laundering of an estimated 65 million dollars that led to Báez’s conviction.
To demonstrate this relationship, Marijuan detailed that an investigation had found “at least 372 telephone contacts” between Báez and Fernández and her secretaries, showing “they were more than mere acquaintances from Santa Cruz and had a close connection.”
Báez was the owner of Austral Construcciones, one of the main companies favored with public works contracts during the tenure of Fernández de Kirchner’s administration as well as that of her late husband.
In an interview late last month, Marijuan said that he didn’t find any “proof that links Cristina Fernández to this case.”
Analysts tied Marijuan’s decision to an alleged friendship with Economy Minister Sergio Massa, widely seen as a possible presidential contender for the October election, Romero said.
President Alberto Fernández and Fernández – they are not related – have already said they will not be running for the presidency again and there is general uncertainty over who will be the candidate for the ruling coalition.
Cristina Fernández, who has long criticized the country’s justice system as corrupt, once faced numerous criminal cases, but those have slowly been dissipating as judges rule there was not enough evidence to hold the former president accountable although those decisions are still subject to review by higher courts.
A court in 2021 dismissed a case against Fernández that accused her of conspiring with Iran to cover up Tehran’s alleged involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. That same year, a court dismissed a case that accused the vice president and her family of benefiting from a money laundering operation involving hotel rooms and real estate. Earlier, a case that had accused her of carrying out fraudulent operations through the dollar futures market was also dismissed.
The vice president is also facing accusations of wrongdoing in a separate case that claims she headed up a corruption network to award public works contracts during her administration.