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Argentina court hands VP Cristina Kirchner 6-year jail term in graft case By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Argentina’s Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks onstage during a party rally inside the Diego Maradona stadium, in La Plata, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina November 17, 2022. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

By Nicolás Misculin

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -An Argentine court sentenced Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to six years in jail and disqualified her from holding public office in a high-profile corruption case on Tuesday, though she has immunity due to her public office.

The powerful vice president will not face immediate prison time and is also expected to appeal the sentence, with the case likely to spend years winding through higher courts.

Fernandez de Kirchner served as president for two terms between 2007 and 2015 and commands rock-star crowds of supporters. She faced charges of alleged corruption in the awarding of public works during her presidency. She has denied the allegations and called the court a “firing squad.”

In a livestreamed sentencing, judges from Federal Court 2 in Buenos Aires city found Fernandez de Kirchner guilty as the “criminally responsible author of the crime of fraudulent administration to the detriment of the public administration.”

The court acquitted her on another count of “illicit association”.

Prosecutors had alleged that public works contracts were handed to construction magnate and ally Lázaro Báez, who channeled money back to Fernandez de Kirchner and late husband Nestor Kirchner, also a former president. Defenders of the vice president maintain she was a victim of judicial persecution.

Baez was also sentenced on Tuesday to six years in prison.

“It is clear that the idea was always to condemn me,” Fernandez de Kirchner said in a live video on her social media platform. “This is a parallel State and judicial mafia.”

Lawyers said that Fernandez de Kirchner would not go to jail any time soon because she has immunity while serving as vice president. She would need to be removed from office in a political trial before she could be sent to prison.

“She currently has privileges as vice president, which means she is one of the officials whose removal requires a political trial,” said lawyer Alejandro Carrio, adding that higher courts could spend years going over appeals up to the Supreme Court. “I do not see the process with a case of this magnitude taking less than three years.”

The country is on edge after a long economic crisis and inflation heading toward 100%. Supporters of Fernandez de Kirchner gathered in the streets after she survived an assassination attempt this year.

The ruling Peronist government of President Alberto Fernandez is facing a tough battle to fend off a challenge from the conservative opposition in general elections set for next year.

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