Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina has been sentenced by a court in Argentina to six years in jail for corruption in a case that appears to have taken the country off balance.
Fernández, 69, was found guilty of “fraudulent administration” over the awarding of public works contracts to a friend,but she is unlikely to serve jail time.
Fernández has some immunity via her government roles and is expected to launch a lengthy appeals process.
As reported by BBC, She has also been banned from public office for life, but will continue in her role as vice-president while the case goes through higher courts.
Prosecutors had sought a 12-year jail sentence.
Fernández said the charges against her were politically motivated. Speaking after the verdict, she described herself as the victim of a “judicial mafia”, the Associated Press news agency reports.
Prior to the ruling, she had also accused the prosecutors of lying and slandering her.
It is the first time ever that a vice-president has been convicted of a crime while in office in Argentina.
Prosecutors said Fernández had led an unlawful partnership during the time when she was president of Argentina from 2007 to 2015.
They said she had created a kickback scheme which steered lucrative public work contracts towards a friend of hers in return for bribes.
Businessman Lázaro Báez, the owner of a construction firm who was accused of being the main beneficiary of the scheme, was also sentenced to six years in prison. He had already been sentenced to 12 years in prison last year for money-laundering.
Eleven other people were on trial. Seven were found guilty and sentenced to between three and a half and six years in prison, three were released and one had their case dismissed.
The prosecutors said that they uncovered irregularities in dozens of public work tenders awarded in the southern province of Santa Cruz, Fernández’s political stronghold. Many of the construction projects were never completed.
Prosecutor Diego Luciani described it as “probably the biggest corruption operation the country has known”.
He also said the alleged kickback scheme had caused the Argentine state a loss of at least $1bn (£818m).
Fernández had vehemently denied all the allegations against her.
The case has proven highly divisive in Argentina, where supporters of Fernández – a populist politician – love and hate her in equal measure. Supporters took to the street outside her apartment in Buenos Aires to show their backing for the vice-president. At times, they have faced off with critics of Fernández, who accuse her of being a “thief”.