Local judge files corruption charges against Argentina VP

BUENOS AIRES - An Argentine judge filed corruption charges Friday against Vice President Amado Boudou over his alleged role while he was finance minister in buying a company that printed local currency.

The bushy-hair Boudou, 51, known for his love of motorcycles and rock-and-roll, faces charges of bribery and "negotiations incompatible" with his position as a cabinet minister, according to the official news site of Argentina's courts.

Boudou, who was Argentina's finance minister in 2009-2011, ran as Kirchner's vice president when she was re-elected to office in October 2011. The alleged misdeeds took place in 2010.

Boudou is the first Argentine vice president ever to face such charges while in office. President Cristina Kirchner's second in command is currently traveling in Cuba and set to return home next week.

Judge Ariel Lijo also filed charges against Boudou's business partner, an alleged frontman, and three other people.

Boudou says he's innocent

Boudou testified in a seven-hour hearing on June 10, insisting that he is innocent and claiming to be the victim of a media smear campaign.

Judge Lijo ruled that Boudou can remain free until the trial, but must appear in court on July 16 for further testimony.

The Kirchner government up to now has fully supported him.

Boudou often appears in the Argentine gossip pages along with his curvy red-headed girlfriend, a news reporter dubbed "Argentina's second lady." The charges claim that Boudou arranged to buy the bankrupt Ciccone printing press through a third party while he was finance minister, with the goal of obtaining government contracts to print currency and official documents.

In Argentina the vice president is also the head of the senate. He can be judged but cannot be arrested unless he is kicked out of the upper chamber, currently controlled by pro-government legislators.

Boudou is a former right-winger from a wealthy background and many party stalwarts are jealous of his close links with president Kirchner.

Separately, Argentina is poised to default on its debt for a second time in 13 years if a payment deal cannot be achieved by Monday with hedge funds holding US$1.3 billion (S$1.62 billion) in bonds.

On June 16, Argentina lost its final appeal to the US Supreme Court against paying what it calls "vulture funds," bond speculators which in the 2000s refused to participate in a restructuring of the country's bonds after it defaulted on nearly US$100 billion in debt.

Around 92 per cent of the debt was covered in the restructuring, with those creditors forced to take steep 70 per cent writeoffs of the value of their bonds to help the country restructure its finances.

With its finances deeply strained by a weak economy, Buenos Aires is reportedly seeking to find a way to avoid having to pay the whole amount up front to the holdouts.

In late May Argentina reached a deal to clear nearly US$10 billion in debt arrears from official creditors in The Paris Club.

Kirchner, who has headed the country since 2007 following her late husband into office, announced in 2008 that her government wanted to pay back the debt inherited from the 2001 crisis.