By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was indicted on Friday over accusations that she oversaw irregularities in the central bank's sale of U.S. dollars in the futures market while she was in office.
Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio charged Fernandez, her former economy minister Axel Kicillof and former central bank chief Alejandro Vanoli with "unfaithful administration to the detriment of public administration," according to court papers.
The ruling, which gives a green light for prosecutors to put Fernandez on trial, may be appealed. There was no arrest warrant.
The accusation is that the central bank took billions of dollars worth of money-losing positions in the futures market ahead of a widely expected devaluation of the Argentine peso.
Fernandez, who heads a large faction of the Peronist party, stepped down in December at the end of her second term.
Her successor, Mauricio Macri, won the presidency on a platform of ditching currency controls that he said were strangling the economy. Since lifting the controls in mid-December the peso has weakened by about 30 percent to 14.1575 per U.S. dollar.
Fernandez last month accused the Macri government of political persecution after testifying in court about the central bank's dollar-buying operations.
The transactions referred to in the case involved $5 billion to $17 billion, according to court papers published by Argentina's Judicial Information Center (CIJ).
"It's impossible to believe that a financial operation of this size ... could have been carried out without the approval of the highest executive level of the national government," the ruling said.
Fernandez is revered by millions for the generous welfare programs she offered while in office and reviled by others for economic policies such as nationalizing businesses and placing heavy-handed controls on the economy.
"The indictment was not unexpected, but politically, it creates noise," said Ignacio Labaqui, who analyses Argentina for emerging markets consultancy Medley Global Advisors. "Peronism is going through a leadership crisis and this could make the divisions within the party more acute."
The indictment of Fernandez came a day after the president of neighboring Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was suspended from office by the Senate while she is tried on charges of breaking budget rules.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)