Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina's ex-leader Menem jailed over arms smuggling

Carlos Menem in the Argentine Senate, 22 December 2011 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Carlos Menem, seen here in 2011, has admitted signing export papers for the arms but said he had no idea the weapons would end up in Ecuador and Croatia

Argentina's ex-President Carlos Menem has been sentenced to seven years in prison for illegally selling weapons to Ecuador and Croatia in the 1990s.

His government smuggled 6,500 weapons to both countries, which were under arms embargoes at the time.

Menem, who was in office from 1989 to 1999, is also a senator and enjoys immunity.

But the 82-year-old could be stripped of his status by parliament or jailed when his term expires next year.

However, even if this happened he would probably face house arrest and not prison due to his age, correspondents say.

Presidential approval

Evidence about the true destinations of the arms first came to light in 1995.

Menem was originally acquitted of the charges in 2011 but an appeals court in Buenos Aires found him guilty in March.

Judges found that there was no way the weapons could have been smuggled without Menem's approval as president.

He has admitted signing export papers for the arms but said he had no idea the arms would end up in Ecuador and Croatia.

He maintained that the shipments of rifles, anti-tank rockets and ammunition were bound for Panama and Venezuela when he authorised them.

The weapons that ended up in Croatia were sent in seven shipments between 1991 and 1995 when much of the Balkans was under a UN arms embargo.

Weapons arrived in Ecuador aboard three flights in February 1995 at a time when Ecuador was engaged in a border war with Peru.

Argentina - as one of the guarantors of a peace agreement between the two nations - was banned from selling arms to either side.

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