A federal judge in Argentina has indicted former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for treason and called for her arrest for allegedly covering up Iran's involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people.
Judge Claudio Bonadio on December 7 in his 491-page ruling called on Argentina's Senate to strip Fernandez of her immunity from arrest, which she gained upon being elected a senator this fall.
The bombing of the Argentinian Israelite Mutual Association (AIMA) community center in Buenos Aires, which killed and wounded more than 300 people, was Argentina's worst terror attack.
Argentinian investigators accused five former Iranian officials -- including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is now deceased, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, and ex-Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie -- of ordering Tehran's Lebanese Shi'ite ally Hizballah to carry out the bombing. Iran denies any involvement.
The attack -- which followed a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people -- devastated Argentina's Jewish population, the largest in Latin America at about 300,000 people.
Fernandez, 64, who negotiated a deal with Iran in 2013 that enabled the accused to avoid prosecution, on December 7 denied any wrongdoing and accused Bonadio and President Mauricio Macri of politicizing the judiciary.
"It is an invented case about facts that did not exist," said the former president, who governed from 2007 to 2015.
The crime of treason is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison, Argentina's maximum sentence.
Several aides and allies of Fernandez were arrested on the same charges on December 7, and the judge ordered former Foreign Minister Hector Timerman to be held under house arrest.
The cover-up allegations against Fernandez gained international attention in January 2015, when the prosecutor who initially leveled the charges, Alberto Nisman, was found shot dead in his Buenos Aires home.
An Argentinian appeals court a year ago ordered the reopening of the investigation.
Nisman's death was classified as a suicide, though an official investigating the case has said the shooting appeared to be a homicide. Nisman's body was discovered hours before he was scheduled to brief Congress on the community-center bombing.
Nisman had prepared a case charging Fernandez with working behind the scenes to clear Iran of any culpability in the bombing attack and normalize relations to clinch a grain-for-oil deal with Tehran that was signed in 2013.
The agreement created a joint commission to investigate the AMIA bombing that critics said was really a means to absolve Iran.
Fernandez said in court earlier this year that the deal with Tehran -- which was passed by the Argentinian parliament but not by Iran's legislature -- "had one aim: to allow an investigation into the Iranians accused in the AMIA attack, so that the case could move forward."
She argued that since Iran and Argentina had no extradition agreement, and Argentina does not carry out trials in absentia, there was no other way to proceed with the investigation.
Fernandez said on December 7 that the deal with Iran "was an act of foreign policy that cannot be prosecuted.... From the legal point of view, it is nonsense" to suggest signing the deal amounted to "treason," she said.
"The case was absolutely paralyzed because Iran does not extradite its compatriots. What we did was to act within the framework of international law," she said.
Bonadio wrote in his ruling that evidence showed the deal was part of "an orchestrated criminal plan" to cover up the alleged involvement of Iranian officials in the attack in return for lucrative trade deals with the Islamic republic.
Moreover, he said, Iran through the agreement appeared to achieve its goal of avoiding being declared a "terrorist" state by Argentina.
Fernandez now faces a battle over her immunity to prosecution in Congress. She was sworn in as a member of the Senate upper house last week.
For Fernandez to be arrested, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to remove her immunity. The Senate usually avoids votes to allow the arrest of colleagues until they have been found guilty, but Senate leaders have said they will closely examine the judge's ruling.
Even if Fernandez retains immunity, the judge could continue investigating because the protection is only from arrest.
Fernandez and the other defendants have several options to appeal, which could drag the case out for years.
With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters