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Former Argentine President Acquitted of Arms Smuggling

Category: Americas,World

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s highest criminal court acquitted former President Carlos Menem on Thursday of smuggling arms shipments to Ecuador and Croatia in the 1990s when both countries were involved in armed conflicts, overturning a 2013 conviction.

Mr. Menem, 88, had been sentenced by a lower court to seven years in prison for “aggravated smuggling” of shipments of more than 6,000 tons of military weapons, which he authorized to go to Venezuela and Panama but ended up in Ecuador and Croatia.

At the time, Argentina was barred from supplying Ecuador with weapons since it had a peacekeeping role after Ecuador and Peru fought a brief war in 1995. Croatia was under a United Nations arms embargo as war ravaged the former Yugoslavia.

Mr. Menem has denied the charges, saying he thought the arms were headed to Panama and Venezuela.

He appealed the 2013 conviction to the Supreme Court, which passed it to the Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation.

On Thursday, the criminal court overturned the ruling because the country’s “reasonable time” principle of finalizing sentences had not been met. The smuggling of mortars, land mines, grenades, rockets and missiles took place between 1991 and 1995.

Critics assailed the ruling.

“The same judicial branch that processed the case for 22 years without a firm sentence, now declares Menem innocent because too much time has passed,” said the lawmaker Graciela Ocana, adding that the ruling guaranteed “impunity.”

Mr. Menem, who governed Argentina from 1989 to 1999, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2015 for embezzlement. He did not go to prison for that conviction either because he was a sitting senator


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