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Argentina's Fernandez denies charges in corruption case

Former President Cristina Fernandez leaves a court hearing after presenting a brief in which she claims that she is wrongly accused in an investigation of alleged corruption, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Aug. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Former President Cristina Fernandez on Monday denied any wrongdoing following recent accusations that she was responsible for a corruption scheme involving public works contracts that has ensnared many of Argentina's former officials and business elite.

Fernandez appeared before a court in Buenos Aires but declined to speak. Instead, she said in a written statement that the accusations by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio, who summoned her to testify, are false and politically motivated.

So far, 15 people have been arrested in the case. They include business leaders from construction companies and former officials who served in Fernandez's 2007-2015 administration.

The case is based on an investigation by the newspaper La Nacion into alleged corruption over more than a decade during the governments of Fernandez and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.

The newspaper says the driver of one of the accused kept notebooks with detailed information on his deliveries of millions in bags of cash paid to former officials in exchange for the granting of public contracts in 2005-2015.

Fernandez's private address and the presidential residence are allegedly mentioned. She is currently a senator, a post that grants her immunity from prosecution, but the scandal could diminish her chances if she runs for the presidency again in next year's elections.

The case has dominated headlines and has been compared to "Operation Car Wash," the Brazilian probe that has uncovered billions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks and that has resulted in the jailing of many of Brazil's most powerful business leaders as well as former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Fernandez was asked to testify in a case in which 10 people have taken plea bargains. The local press says at least one of them has acknowledged before the judge that Fernandez knew about the corruption scheme in detail.

Since leaving office, Fernandez has also been accused of money laundering, possible illegal enrichment and fraud. In December, Bonadio asked Argentine lawmakers to remove her immunity to allow her arrest on a charge of treason for allegedly covering up the role of Iranians in a 1994 bomb attack on a Jewish center- Argentina's worst terrorist attack. Bonadio will decide in the coming days if she asks lawmakers again to remove Fernandez's immunity.

In her statement, Fernandez accused Bonadio of being "an enemy judge" who has set up five of the six cases against her since leaving office.

"Today, Bonadio again asks me to testify, accusing me of being the boss of a new illicit association. This time, with the construction business leaders," Fernandez said. "That's my fourth criminal organization. It seems like I'm always the boss."

The scandal has hit Argentine financial markets and shaken investor confidence in the sputtering Argentina economy.

Argentina's already weak peso depreciated sharply Monday, to close at a new all-time low of 30.50 per U.S. dollar amid market jitters over economic turmoil in Turkey and the local corruption scandal.

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