Cristina Kirchner Argentina's ex-president testifies in graft probe

"Public works should never again be synonymous with corruption, as we see in the quantity of these open cases," he said.

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Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner served as Argentina's president from 2007-2015 play

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner served as Argentina's president from 2007-2015

(Telam/AFP)
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Argentina's ex-president Cristina Kirchner received a rock-star welcome from thousands of supporters as she appeared in court Monday to request a graft probe against her be dropped, claiming it was "persecution" by the current government.

"This is folly. It's manipulation by the current government to cover up the economic disaster," Kirchner told journalists after the hearing before a federal judge in Buenos Aires.

The former leader, in power between 2007 and 2015, is being investigated on allegations that her government steered public works contracts to a businessman, Lazaro Baez.

She was the first of 17 people summoned to give statements. The judge, Julian Ercolini, is to determine whether the case should go ahead to trial or be dismissed.

'No more impunity'

Kirchner said she had submitted a written request to cancel the corruption probe, one of many launched against her since she left office in December.

Supporters of Argentinian former President Cristina Kirchner wait for her arrival outside a court where she will declare for alleged fraud in the concession of public works during her term in Buenos Aires on October 31, 2016 play

Supporters of Argentinian former President Cristina Kirchner wait for her arrival outside a court where she will declare for alleged fraud in the concession of public works during her term in Buenos Aires on October 31, 2016

(AFP)

Baez, a construction magnate who is in custody, had close links to Kirchner and to her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who preceded her as president.

The complaint filed by prosecutors alleges that Kirchner was part of a "criminal organization" with other officials working to benefit Baez, who repaid the former president by renting rooms in hotels owned by the Kirchner family in the southern province of Santa Cruz.

Mauricio Macri, Argentina's conservative president who succeeded Kirchner, alluded to the public works investigation Monday at the inauguration of a project in Buenos Aires.

"Public works should never again be synonymous with corruption, as we see in the quantity of these open cases," he said.

"We want to know what happened. We all want there to be no more impunity."

A love-hate figure

Kirchner was greeted by around 5,000 supporters at the heavily guarded courthouse in the capital, many of whom held up banners and sang songs.

She entered the building through a back door, where dozens of workers used cellphones to try to snap a picture of her -- a sign of the polarizing love-hate fascination she holds in the country.

In her comments to the media after her hearing, Kirchner claimed sardonically that prosecutors were trying to portray her entire government as "a criminal association."

Kirchner alleged she was the target of "political persecution" by Macri's center-right government, and suggested it was part of an effort across Latin America to attack current and former leftwing leaders.

"This isn't new -- we are also seeing this in Brazil, with ex-president Lula," she said, referring to Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, the former leader now facing three corruption-related court cases.

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