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Argentina's vice president charged with bribery in acquisition case

BUENOS AIRES--An Argentine judge has charged Vice President Amado Boudou with bribery and conducting business incompatible with public office in the acquisition of the company that prints the country's currency and of later benefiting from government contracts.

Boudou is accused of using shell companies and secret middlemen to gain control of the company that was given contracts to print the Argentine peso and campaign material for the ticket he shared with President Cristina Fernandez.

Federal judge Ariel Lijo's decision was published Friday night on the justice department's website. The judge also ordered an embargo on 200,000 pesos (US$25,000) of Boudou's property. He will remain free while he waits trial in the case along with five other defendants.

Boudou is the first sitting Argentine vice president to face such charges. He could be sentenced to between one and six years in prison, and a lifetime ban from elective office.

Boudou, who was on an official trip to Cuba, says he's innocent of the accusations despite evidence linking him to other defendants that was made public through investigative reports by Argentina's newspapers.

Many Argentines have questioned why Fernandez has remained loyal to her No. 2 when allegations have made him Argentina's least popular politician, opponents are threatening to impeach him and some allies say he should resign. His falling fortunes have left the government without a clear presidential successor ahead of the 2015 elections. Fernandez has yet to speak publicly about the case.

According to the judge's investigation, Boudou — as economy minister and then vice president — acted to smooth the Ciccone Calcografica printing company's exit from bankruptcy and engineer its purchase by a shell company so he and other secret partners could benefit from unusual tax exemptions and lucrative government contracts.

The shell company, The Old Fund, was led by businessman Alejandro Vandenbroele, who is accused of secretly representing Boudou in business deals. The scandal broke open after Vandenbroele's former wife exposed the alleged arrangement, saying she had to give media interviews because her life was being threatened for what she knew.

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