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Argentine judge seeks arrest of ex-president Fernandez

Former Argentine President Fernandez de Kirchner gestures during a swearing in ceremony for senators at the Argentine Senate in Buenos Aires

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gestures during a swearing in ceremony for senators at the Argentine Senate in Buenos Aires, November 29, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – A federal judge in Argentina indicted and asked for the arrest of former President Cristina Fernandez on Thursday for trying to cover up Iran’s possible role in the bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994 that killed 85 people, a court ruling said.

As Fernandez is a senator, Congress would first have to vote to strip her of parliamentary immunity for an arrest to occur. The judge, Claudio Bonadio, also indicted and ordered house arrest for Fernandez’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, the ruling said.

Fernandez and Timerman have previously denied wrongdoing.

While removing immunity from congressional officials is rare in Argentina, Congress voted on Oct. 25 to do so for Fernandez’s former planning minister Julio De Vido and he was arrested the same day. De Vido is accused of fraud and corruption, which he denies.

Earlier on Thursday, two lower level allies of Fernandez were arrested based on the same ruling from Bonadio: Carlos Zannini, a legal adviser, and Luis D’Elia, the leader of a group of protesters allied with her government.

An Argentine appeals court a year ago ordered the re-opening of an investigation into the possibility of a cover-up in connection with the bombing. In January 2015, the prosecutor who initially made the accusation, Alberto Nisman, was found shot dead in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment.

The death was classified as a suicide, though an official investigating the case has said the shooting appeared to be a homicide. Nisman’s body was discovered hours before he was to brief Congress on the bombing of the center.

Nisman said Fernandez worked behind the scenes to clear Iran and normalize relations to clinch a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran.

Bonadio wrote that evidence in the case showed Iran, with the help of Argentine citizens, had appeared to achieve its goal of avoiding being declared a “terrorist” state by Argentina.

President Mauricio Macri’s leader in the Senate, Federico Pinedo, said on Twitter Congress would analyze the request to strip immunity “with sincerity and responsibility.”

Argentina’s Congress has entered a period of judicial recess but can be convened by the president for urgent matters.

Center-right Macri’s coalition performed better than expected in Oct. 22 mid-term elections, gaining seats in Congress. Fernandez, a leftist populist who governed from 2007 to 2015, finished second to a Macri ally in a Senate race in Buenos Aires province but won a seat under Argentina’s list system.

She was also indicted in late 2016 on charges she ran a corruption scheme with her public works secretary. Fernandez has admitted there may have been corruption in her government but personally denies wrongdoing.

(Reporting by Jorge Otaola, Eliana Raszewski and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

 

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