BUENOS AIRES: An Argentine court on Tuesday (Dec 6) sentenced Vice President Cristina Kirchner to six years in jail for corruption, banning the country's best-known politician from seeking public office after a trial she dismissed as a political witch hunt.
Adored and reviled in equal measure by millions of Argentinians, the divisive former president was declared guilty of "fraudulent administration" over irregular public works contracts awarded during her time as president between 2007 and 2015.
Kirchner wrote on social media that "none of the lies were proven" and that she had been convicted by a "legal mafia".
"I won't be a candidate for anything, not a senator, or a deputy or president of the nation," in 2023 general elections, she wrote on social media after the ruling.
Analysts say it is unlikely that Kirchner will head to jail anytime soon, as she holds congressional immunity through her current role, and still has several avenues for appeal, but the ruling places a giant question mark over her future.
"The verdict will have a strong political impact," said political analyst Rosendo Fraga of the University of Buenos Aires, although "the chances of her being arrested for the sentence are non-existent."
Kirchner was charged alongside 12 others for alleged involvement in the illicit attribution of public works contracts in the southern Santa Cruz province in favor of businessman Lazaro Baez.
The period investigated includes Kirchner's eight years in office and the preceding four years when her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who died in 2010, was president.
The public prosecutor denounced what he called "a system of institutional corruption" and "probably the largest corruption operation" in the country, with "systematic irregularities in 51 calls for tenders" over 12 years.
Eight of Kirchner's co-accused were found guilty and sentenced to between three and six and a half years in jail. Three were released and another had their case dismissed as it had passed the statute of limitations.
Kirchner said the charges were a lie made up by her political enemies.
"This court has been a true firing squad," the veteran politician said during her final address to the court, accusing prosecutors of having "dedicated themselves to disrespecting and insulting me."
As vice president, Kirchner is head of the country's Senate and enjoys immunity as a lawmaker.