Argentina ex-leader Kirchner charged with fraud

Former Argentine president Cristina Kirchner has been charged with "illegal association and money laundering" in connection with real estate dealings

The corruption cases against Argentina's ex-president Cristina Kirchner kept piling up Tuesday as she was charged with money laundering, her fourth set of criminal charges in a year.

The new case is the latest twist in a long running legal saga as Argentina heads for mid-term elections seen as crucial for President Mauricio Macri, Kirchner's nemesis.

Federal judge Claudio Bonadio brought formal charges against Kirchner, 64, for alleged money laundering in real estate dealings, the Judicial Information Service said in a statement.

She was also barred from leaving the country and hit with an $8-million asset freeze.

Kirchner -- who served as president from 2007 to 2015 -- has been charged with "illegal association and money laundering," the statement said.

Her son Maximo and daughter Florencia have also been charged, together with businessmen Cristobal Lopez and Lazaro Baez.

A travel ban has been issued for all five.

Lopez, a casino magnate and owner of the Indalo Media group, has been close to Kirchner and her late husband Nestor, who served as president from 2003 to 2007 and died in 2010.

Baez, who is already in jail pending trial, is a construction businessman who won lucrative government contracts during the Kirchners' rule in the province of Santa Cruz, the couple's stronghold.

Kirchner denies any wrongdoing, and calls the cases against her a political witch hunt by Macri.

Macri's November 2015 election victory put an end to 12 years of leftist rule under the Kirchners.

The center-right president has been steadily hacking away at their legacy.

There is no love lost between him and Kirchner, who boycotted his inauguration and refused to hand over her presidential Twitter account.

Macri's government denies influencing the courts to go after Kirchner -- though it has repeatedly attacked the former administration as corrupt.

Kirchner has already been charged in two other corruption cases: she is accused of paying bribes and striking back-door deals with Baez.

She also faces trial on charges of financial mismanagement as president, accused of ordering the central bank to sell dollar futures at artificially low prices, causing Argentina to lose hundreds of millions.

No trial date has been set yet.

- Political comeback? -

Despite the cases against her, Kirchner may be set for a return to the political stage in October's mid-term elections.

Supporters in her Front For Victory party (FPV) are urging her to head up its list for the legislative polls.

Without Kirchner, the FPV is on track to win less than 20 percent of the vote, according to opinion polls.

But with Kirchner, the party's backing rises to 30 percent in some districts.

The former president lives in the southern Patagonia region, but has been returning regularly to Buenos Aires for her various court appearances.

She has not played an active part in politics since her term ended.

A conviction or arrest would sideline her from the mid-term elections.