Ex-Argentine leader Menem cleared of arms smuggling

Carlos Menem in 2005 Carlos Menem insisted the arms shipments were legal

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Former Argentine President Carlos Menem has been cleared of involvement in arms trafficking in the 1990s.

Mr Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999 and is now a senator, had been charged with illegally selling weapons to Croatia and Ecuador.

Seventeen other senior figures charged with him were also acquitted.

Mr Menem, 81, admitted signing the export papers but said he had no idea the arms would end up in Ecuador and Croatia.

Both countries were under international arms embargoes at the time.

"Carlos Saul Menem has been acquitted," said the judge in the courtroom at Comodoro Py, Buenos Aires.

Those also cleared included former government ministers, retired military personnel and arms makers.

Prosecutor Mariano Borinsky said he would appeal against Tuesday's ruling.

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

"My acts as president were limited to signing the decrees to export the arms to Venezuela and Panama," he said during the trial.

"From then on, all the documents escaped the (control of the) president. I couldn't go to the customs service to see what the destination of the arms was."

Border war

Evidence about the true destinations first came to light in 1995. Mr Menem was formally charged in October 2008.

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 for selling arms to either side.

Mr Menem had faced up to eight years in prison if found guilty. As a senator he would have been immune to imprisonment but could have been jailed after his mandate ended in 2014.

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