Former Argentine president Menem skips starts of trial
The trial of former officials for weapons smuggling to Ecuador and Croatia during the government of former Argentine president Carlos Menem (1989-1999) started Thursday in Buenos Aires without the former leader and most prominent defendant, reported dpa.
Menem, 77, claimed he had health problems that forced him to remain in his native province, La Rioja, some 1,150 kilometres north- west of Buenos Aires.
Menem and 17 other people are being tried for allegedly smuggling weapons to Croatia and Ecuador from 1991-95, despite an arms embargo on both countries at the time.
According to the plaintiffs, there were seven shipments for the Balkans and three flights to Ecuador in which weapons were smuggled. However, lawyers for Argentine Customs believe there were other shipments and flights that went undetected.
Menem was already placed under house arrest for six months in 2001 in connection with the case, but was released upon a decision from the Argentine Supreme Court.
He is currently a senator and although he may be tried under Argentine law, his position provides him immunity from arrest - unless Congress chooses to remove it. If found guilty, Menem could be sentenced to up to 12 years in jail.
Former defence minister Oscar Camilion, Menem's former brother-in- law and adviser Emir Yoma, and former Air Force boss Brigadier General Daniel Paulik are among the defendants.
More than 400 people are expected to testify in the case, including former Argentine presidents Raul Alfonsin (1983-1989) and Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001).
The smuggling was allegedly based on three decrees signed by Menem and several of his ministers authorizing the sale of weapons to Panama and Venezuela, but the weapons were sent to Croatia and Ecuador instead.