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Former Argentina leader slams corruption probes as political plot

by Reuters
Saturday, 23 July 2016 10:00 GMT

By Maximiliano Rizzi

EL CALAFATE, Argentina, July 23 (Reuters) - Facing corruption probes that threaten to land her behind bars, former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez described her growing legal troubles as part of a "persecution" of progressive Latin American leaders that has boosted the right in the region.

Speaking to foreign media at her Patagonian estate, Fernandez compared her situation to that of Brazil's suspended center-left President Dilma Rousseff, now subjected to an impeachment trial in the Senate.

"In the case of Brazil, the intervention of a partisan judiciary is very clear, and you're seeing it here as well," Fernandez said, describing parallel efforts by media to smear progressive leaders. "It's obvious it's a judicial persecution."

Fernandez, 63, said allegations of graft and money laundering during her administration were trumped up by unnamed powerful interests who want to punish her for putting Argentines before foreign investors as she managed Latin America's third biggest economy between 2007 and 2015.

Investigations targeting Fernandez have moved rapidly since her center-right nemesis, Mauricio Macri, replaced her as president in December.

In May, Fernandez was indicted on charges related to the central bank's sale of dollars in the futures market. Soon after, anti-corruption police searched her properties and she was embarrassed anew when her former public works secretary was caught stashing bags of cash in a convent in a Buenos Aires suburb last month.

"I don't want to minimize anything, but I think those are episodes that can take place for any government," Fernandez said. She called for an audit of public works in her government that she said would clear her of any involvement in wrongdoing.

Fernandez said she does not fear going to jail if it is the political price she must pay for her policies, including generous welfare spending and the nationalization of energy company YPF and the airline Aerolineas Argentinas .

"When you make decisions like these, it's clear that you risk going to jail and being politically persecuted," Fernandez told reporters gathered in her home's glass-walled garden room. Outside, her pet dogs roamed the grounds of the tree-lined property, one of several she owns in the region, including two luxury hotels.

Fernandez lamented the recent victories of Macri and other conservatives in the region that she says threaten the progress made by the once-powerful alliance of leftist leaders led by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"There's been a regression of what were once national and popular governments in the region," said Fernandez, who succeeded her husband, the late Nestor Kirchner, as president.

Macri's decision to slash subsidies for utilities has hurt the middle class, Fernandez added, and the deal he brokered with hedge funds that had sued Argentina over its unpaid debt had yet to revive an economy mired in recession.

"They thought it would rain dollars after that agreement," Fernandez said incredulously.

Fernandez, whose popularity has slipped since her term ended, declined to say whether she might run for public office again or try to rally opposition to Macri as he plows forward with reforms aimed at dismantling her controls on the economy.

Macri has denied having any involvement in the judicial branch. Prosecutors investigating Fernandez could not be reached for comment outside of regular working hours. (Reporting By Maximilian Rizzi; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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