A three-judge panel in the capital’s Buenos Aires handed down its verdict on public broadcast after a three-year trial that charged de Kirchner with forwarding hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded contracts to a business partner to build roads in Patagonia, at the tip of South America.
The panel found her not guilty of a second charge of leading an “unauthorized association” that oversaw the kickback scheme.
Kirchner has spent 30 years in the public eye, including as first lady, president, and currently as senator and vice president. In that time, she has been previously investigated on about a dozen charges, mostly related to corruption, although four cases have been dropped and two others acquitted. This was the first investigation to go to court.
She was the target of a botched assassination attempt in September — a gunfire that, barring a mechanical failure, could very well have killed her.
The divide over Kirchner became apparent recently in the Patagonian village of El Chaltén, where the 1,700s population had to take advantage of the unfinished road projects associated with the matter.
Before the sentencing was announced, Dante Ardenghi, 65, a doctor, said he believed the media and opposition parties fabricated or exaggerated allegations against Kirchner to bring down her political movement.
What they really believe, he said, is that leftist presidents “shouldn’t exist in South America.”
But Luis Ledesma, 59, a high school substitute teacher, said he thought the Kirchners were corrupt.
“Anyone who came close to or was somehow connected to the inner circle of these people became rich in a very short time,” he said. “We’re talking about secretaries, drivers.”
Analysts say Tuesday’s guilty verdict could add to the challenges Kirchner already faces and appeal to a wider audience ahead of next year’s presidential election. But it also ignited its supporters, thousands of whom poured into the capital.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.