Argentine senate approves search of Kirchner homes

KIRCHNER. This handout photo released by the Argentinian Senate's press office shows Argentina's former President and Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (L) debating the bill to legalizing abortion at Congress in Buenos Aires on August 9, 2018. AFP PHOTO / ARGENTINIAN SENATE'S PRESS OFFICE / CHARLY DIAZ AZCUE

KIRCHNER. This handout photo released by the Argentinian Senate's press office shows Argentina's former President and Senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (L) debating the bill to legalizing abortion at Congress in Buenos Aires on August 9, 2018.

AFP PHOTO / ARGENTINIAN SENATE'S PRESS OFFICE / CHARLY DIAZ AZCUE

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentina's senate on Wednesday, August 22, authorized investigators to search 3 homes belonging to former president Cristina Kirchner as part of the so-called corruption notebooks case.

Claudio Bonadio, the judge leading the investigation in the multi-million dollar bribery case, had petitioned the Senate to partially lift Kirchner's immunity to allow the residences to be searched.

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

But all 67 senators present – including Kirchner herself – approved the partial lifting of that immunity to allow the searches as Bonadio seeks evidence the leftist former president accepted millions of dollars in bribes from businessmen in exchange for public works contracts.

In a fiery and defiant speech to the chamber, the 65-year-old reiterated that the cases against her were politically motivated.

"If there was something missing to consecrate the political persecution going on in Argentina, it was this .... I am going to be the first elected senator to be searched."

Facing trial in several other corruption cases, she has previously accused Bonadio of carrying out "judicial persecutions" aimed at derailing a possible run for the presidency next year.

Senators reached their decision after several hours of debate.

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

This time however, senators appeared set to favor the magistrate's request from the start, with Kirchner herself giving an indication she would bow to the seemingly inevitable.

She told lawmakers in a letter that she was willing to allow searches of her homes in Buenos Aires, Santa Cruz and El Calafate on condition that they did not allow the searches to be filmed or photographed.

Time to 'repair damage'

Eduardo Costa, from President Mauricio Macri's center-right Cambiemos coalition, said he would vote in favor of Bonadio's request to allow him to move ahead with the case.

It was time "to repair the damage that corruption and officials do to the Argentine people," Costa said.

Ana Almiron of Kirchner's Front for Victory party questioned "the purpose and the need for the search".

"They are trying to cover up the truth of what's happening in Argentina," she said, alluding to an economic crisis that has forced Macri to agree a $50 billion IMF loan.

Thousands of people demonstrated outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires the previous night, 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.

Driver's notebooks

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 Bonadio's investigation.

According to driver Oscar Centeno's bombshell evidence, the Kirchners' residence in Buenos Aires was the venue for the handover of millions of dollars in cash, with others taking place at the Casa Rosada government headquarters and the Olivos official presidential residence.

Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has said a total of $160 million in bribes was handed over during a 10-year period from 2005-15.

Kirchner is being investigated in 5 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.

Still one of Argentina's most popular politicians, Kirchner said last week she was victim of a right-wing effort across Latin America to discredit the work of previous leftist governments "that expanded rights and allowed millions of people out of poverty during the first decade and a half of the 21st Century." – Rappler.com