Ex-Argentine leader De la Rua innocent of bribery

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Former Argentine President Fernando de la Rua has been found innocent of bribing senators to pass a law weakening worker protections as the country's economy neared collapse 13 years ago.

"With this verdict I have recovered my dignity," De la Rua, 76, said outside court. "This whole thing has been a terrible disgrace, from beginning to end."

Also absolved were de la Rua's labor minister, intelligence chief, four former senators and a former congressional worker, Mario Pontaquarto, who testified that he personally carried $5 million in bribes from the spy chief to the lawmakers.

De la Rua denied any knowledge of the alleged bribes. He abandoned the presidency during Argentina's economic and social crisis of 2001. The emergency labor law was reversed in 2004 during the presidency of Nestor Kirchner.

The trial judges did not explain their verdict. In Argentina's justice system, such written explanations usually take months to be published. But they ordered prosecutors to investigate whether witnesses gave false testimony, and the former president said his name was cleared.

"This trial of nearly two years and 300 witnesses demonstrated the inexistence of all suspicion of corruption with my government," he said.

Pontaquarto, who made the bribery allegations in court in 2003, called the ruling "shameful" and said the justice system had missed an historic opportunity to do something about corruption.

"Who is going to risk (coming forward) after a sentence like this?" Pontaquarto said. "There are things that I can't understand, but this is the justice system we have."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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