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Argentine ex-president jailed for arms deals

Carlos Menem sentenced to seven years in prison for weapons smuggling to Ecuador and Croatia during the 1990s.

Last Modified: 14 Jun 2013 18:07
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An economic tribunal in Buenos Aires has also banned Menem, a current senator, from holding elective office [EPA]

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for illegally smuggling weapons to Ecuador and Croatia in violation of international embargoes in the 1990s.

An economic tribunal in Buenos Aires issued the verdict on Friday, while banning him from holding elective office and asking the Senate, where he is currently a member, to vote to remove his immunity.

The sentence is final unless overturned by the country's Supreme Court, but it was unclear whether the country's Congress will vote him out of office.

Menem's lawyer, Maximiliano Rusconi, said the defence would contest what he called "this judiciary disaster".

But Ricardo Monner Sanz, a government prosecutor, praised the work of the appeals court.

Menem's leadership of Argentina in the 1990s is frequently criticised by President Cristina Fernandez, but as senator he has provided a reliable swing vote on critical issues, and the current president's allies control the Senate.

Menem was due to begin serving his sentence immediately. But given his advanced age, 82, he would likely serve his sentence at home.

Weapons ban

An appellate court found Menem guilty in March, overturning his earlier acquittal at trial in 2011.

The higher court said that much of the evidence had been mistakenly dismissed, and that there was no logical way the weapons could have been smuggled without Menem's direct participation and approval.

Menem, who served two terms as president from 1989 to 1999, acknowledged signing secret decrees to export weapons to Venezuela and Panama.

But he also said he had no idea that the tons of rifles and ammunition made in Argentina would end up in Ecuador and Croatia, countries subject to international embargoes at the time.

At the time, Ecuador was engaged in a border war with Peru, and Argentina was banned from selling weapons to either side as one of the guarantors of a peace agreement the two nations signed ending an earlier war in 1942.

Meanwhile, the Balkans, including Croatia, was also under a UN arms embargo following the break up of Yugoslavia.

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