Kirchner returns to Buenos Aires to face fraud accusations

Buenos Aires (AFP) - Thousands of supporters greeted Argentina's former president Cristina Kirchner as she returned to Buenos Aires on Monday to face corruption allegations.

Kirchner is due to testify Wednesday in an investigation into whether she mishandled public funds in connection with Central Bank currency-related operations during the final months of her presidency.

She arrived in Buenos Aires following four months in southern Patagonia, where she secluded herself after leaving office last December when a newly elected president took office.

Crowds gathered to welcome her at the airport and again outside her apartment in Buenos Aires. As she left the airport Kirchner waved to fans but made no comment.

The charges, ranging from embezzlement to money laundering, come amid an atmosphere of political polarization in Argentina and accusations of bias among prosecutors and judges.

A federal prosecutor is seeking an investigation of the populist former president based on information given by a protected witness in an ongoing case, local media reported, citing court sources.

Kirchner faces questioning over the central bank's sale of peso futures well below value. Aimed at stabilizing the currency, the sales led to a sharp drop in bank reserves.

Argentina's former economy minister and former central bank chairman are also named in the case.

News reports over the weekend said Kirchner could also be investigated for alleged money laundering in a separate case fanned by revelations from the "Panama Papers" leaks.

It is just one in an expanding number of cases connected to former leading officials from the center-left governments of Kirchner, in power from 2007-2015, and her late husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, who held office from 2003 to 2007.

Kirchner may get a temporary reprieve if another federal court orders the recusal of the judge in the case, Claudio Bonadino, on grounds that Kirchner had previously tried to dismiss him.

If that happens, the court will have to appoint a new judge and reschedule the hearings.

Kirchner's supporters, meanwhile, are planning to hold a vigil Tuesday night and protests Wednesday in front of the court, under the banner "If she gets called (to testify), they will have to call us all!"

Her successor as president, Mauricio Macri, has sought to restore frayed relations with the United States and revive the economy by reversing more than a decade of protectionist economic policy.

But he has also come under fire over alleged offshore financial dealings after revelations in the "Panama Papers" leak, which prompted a federal prosecutor last week to open an investigation.