By Hugh Bronstein and Walter Bianchi
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez agreed on Tuesday to allow investigators to search properties belonging to her as part of a corruption case in which construction company executives have said they paid bribes for government contracts.
The scandal is of importance to next year’s presidential election, in which leftist Fernandez may try to unseat Argentina’s current leader, Mauricio Macri, whose popularity has fallen as the economy slips into recession and inflation soars.
The scandal exploded this month when a local newspaper revealed that a chauffeur employed by the Fernandez administration said he kept records of cash deliveries from construction executives to government officials from 2005 to 2015. Fernandez denies wrongdoing and has immunity as a senator.
“I have no problem with the Senate authorizing what has been asked for by (judge Claudio) Bonadio,” Fernandez tweeted, referring to the judge in charge of the case, who has requested her three homes be searched for evidence.
“But I want to make clear that my decision should in no way validate the irrational measures taken by Bonadio in his prosecutorial crusade against me,” she tweeted.
Critics of Fernandez on Tuesday called on the Senate to remove her immunity and for her to be prosecuted. Her second term ended in 2015 when she was succeeded by Macri, whose orthodox policies are at odds with her efforts at increasing government control of the economy.
More than a dozen executives and officials from Fernandez’s administration have been arrested. Fernandez says she is being persecuted by Macri, and accuses him of using the scandal to distract media attention from an economy hobbled by inflation running at more than 31 percent annually.
The Senate is set to vote Wednesday on whether to allow Fernandez’s properties to be searched.
Credit ratings agencies Moody’s and Fitch have warned that the scandal could prove damaging to Argentina’s creditworthiness and economy. Weighed down in part by a sell-off in emerging markets world-wide, Argentina’s peso currency has weakened 8.6 percent this month to 30 per U.S. dollar.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein and Walter Bianchi; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)