Argentine ex-leader de la Rua cleared of bribing senators

Fernando De la Rua waves in 1999, before he was elected in a landslide. Mr de la Rua had always denied all the charges

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Argentina's former president, Fernando de la Rua, has been found not guilty of bribing senators to pass a controversial labour reform in 2000.

Judges in Buenos Aires said there was no evidence to prove that bribery had taken place in the Argentine Senate.

Seven other people who were accused of taking or facilitating bribes in 2000, including Mr de la Rua's former labour minister, were also found innocent.

Mr de la Rua, 76, would have faced six years in prison if found guilty.

"With this verdict, I have recovered my dignity,'' he said outside court.

"This whole thing has been a terrible disgrace, from beginning to end."

His wife and son, who were also in court, applauded and embraced when the verdict was read, La Nacion newspaper reported.

The trial lasted nearly two years and heard the testimony of some 300 witnesses.

'Shameful'

The judges also absolved Mr de la Rua's intelligence chief, four former senators and a former congressional worker, Mario Pontaquarto, who testified that he personally carried some $5m (£3m) in bribes to the lawmakers.

Mr Pontaquarto, who first made the bribery claims in court in 2003, said the verdict was "shameful", and that the justice system had missed an opportunity to issue a landmark ruling about corruption.

"Who is going to risk [coming forward] after a sentence like this?" he told reporters outside court.

"I am left with a sense of anguish and sadness."

Mr de la Rua came to power in 1999, but was forced to resign two years later after violent anti-government protests and amid a major economic and social crisis, which left more than half the population living in poverty.

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