Judge orders trial for Argentina ex-president

Buenos Aires (AFP) - A judge on Thursday ordered Argentina's former president Cristina Kirchner to stand trial on charges of financial mismanagement.

It is the first of several cases against the combative 64-year-old leftist leader to go to trial.

A string of cases targeting Kirchner and her rival, current President Mauricio Macri, are clouding Argentine politics ahead of mid-term elections later this year.

Kirchner is accused of ordering the central bank to sell dollar futures at artificially low prices, causing Argentina to lose hundreds of millions. She denies wrongdoing.

Kirchner's defenders say she should not be prosecuted for a mishandled economic policy. But the accusation cited in the court ruling alleges that her and two other defendants' actions amounted to "fraudulent administration" of state funds.

Federal judge Claudio Bonadio ordered a court to set a date for her trial, in a ruling released by the High Court's Judicial Information Center.

He also called to trial Kirchner's former economy minister Axel Kicillof and Alejandro Vanoli, who was head of the central bank at the time, on the same charges.

A further 12 defendants face trial as alleged accomplices.

- 'Politically motivated' -

Kirchner faces separate investigations into alleged corruption. She has branded the probes politically motivated.

In the case now going to trial, Bonadio impounded a million dollars in Kirchner's assets last year.

She and her late husband and predecessor Nestor Kirchner had testy relations with Britain and the United States during their 12 years in power.

Macri took over vowing to drag Argentina out of recession and boost its foreign ties.

But Kirchner's court appearances during recent months of judicial investigation have brought her back to the public eye.

Crowds of supporters have rallied outside court in her support, reminding Argentina of her capacity to generate a media spectacle with those who still hail her as a champion of the poor.

- Probes against Macri -

The trial comes at a delicate time for Argentina, Latin America's third-biggest economy.

Mid-term legislative elections in October pose a test for center-right leader Macri, who succeeded Kirchner in December 2015.

Tens of thousands of striking teachers and other workers have staged mass protests against him in recent weeks.

They are demanding pay rises and protesting job cuts and price increases undertaken as part of Macri's economic reforms.

One of his first moves after taking office was to devalue the Argentine peso.

That affected the worth of the state dollar investments made under the previous government.

Kirchner has alleged that businessmen who later became officials in Macri's administration themselves invested in the dollar futures in question.

A center-right rival of Kirchner, lawmaker Felipe Sola, argued she should only be tried if shown to have had personal relations with the investors involved.

He said the case looked like a "hunt" against the ex-president.

Political tension is high with a series of scandals implicating Macri as well.

He is under investigation by prosecutors for alleged conflicts of interest linked to his family's business affairs.

Last year the so-called "Panama Papers" tax haven leaks revealed he had links to an offshore company.

He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

Bonadio is an open critic of Kirchner, who in the past tried to have him dismissed from his post.