Ex-Argentine economy minister convicted over money in bathroom

Thu Dec 27, 2012 2:30pm EST

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* Miceli served under late former President Nestor Kirchner

* Judges say never properly explained cash in office bathroom

BUENOS AIRES Dec 27 (Reuters) - An Argentine court on Thursday sentenced former Economy Minister Felisa Miceli to four years in jail over $32,500 in cash found stashed in a brown paper bag in her office bathroom.

Miceli, who served under the late Nestor Kirchner as Argentina's first woman economy chief, was convicted of hiding the origin of the money but will remain free while pursing appeals.

In June 2007 police discovered 100,000 Argentine pesos, worth $32,500 at the time, in a closet in Miceli's Economy Ministry office bathroom during a routine bomb inspection. The money was found in bags marked with the official seal of Argentina's central bank.

The bomb-sniffing dogs that found the money also discovered $31,670 in U.S. dollars in the bathroom, but there were no charges against Miceli related to the dollars.

Miceli said she had borrowed both the pesos and dollars to buy a house. But the court ruled she had failed to give a solid explanation of where it came from and said she had snatched and hid the report written by police after the bag was discovered.

Miceli, who served from 2005 to 2007 during Kirchner's presidency, resigned a month after the cash was discovered. She has denied any wrongdoing.

"I will pursue all avenues to show my innocence," Miceli told reporters.

The cash was traced from Argentina's central bank to a private financial institution that had been under investigation for money laundering, triggering a full-blown political scandal.

In its Thursday ruling, the court's three-judge panel referred to the money's origin as "spurious."

Kirchner was succeeded as president by his wife, Cristina Fernandez, who won the office in 2007 and was re-elected last year. Kirchner, who Fernandez credits with developing the model for her progressive policies, died in 2010.

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