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Argentine president found not guilty

Former Argentine leader Carlos Menem was charged with weapons trafficking

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem was acquitted along with 17 associates this week, on charges of violating arms embargoes on Ecuador and Croatia back in the 1990s.

Menem, who is 81, was spared a possible eight years in prison by the two members of his three-judge panel who found him not guilty.

The ex-president, who remains a sitting senator, denied trafficking in weapons during his administration from 1989 to 1999.  He did admit signing secret decrees to export weapons to Venezuela and Panama, but claimed ignorance that tons Argentinian rifles and ammunition would reach Ecuador and Croatia, under international embargoes at the time.

“My acts as president were limited to signing the decrees to export the arms to Venezuela and Panama,” Menem testified. “From then on, all the documents escape the (control of) the president. I couldn’t go to the Customs service to see what the destination of the arms was.”

Menem’s co-defendants, including his former brother-in-law and aide Emir Yoma, former Defense Minister Oscar Camilion and former air force chief Juan Paulik, were also acquitted.

Prosecutors had requested a sentence of eight years in prison but even if convicted, Menem would have served time only if the Senate voted to remove the immunity Argentine lawmakers enjoy.

The former president was held under house arrest for six months in 2001, but at the time he faced only a conspiracy charge at the time and was freed by Argentina’s Supreme Court.   By the time charges of arms trafficking were added, he enjoyed senatorial immunity. Beginning in 2008, the trial featured testimony by 383 witnesses, many via video hookup from Ecuador, Peru and Europe.