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Argentina arms trafficking trial begins for ex-president Menem

[JURIST] Former Argentine president Carlos Menem [official website] failed to appear in a Buenos Aires court Thursday as he and other former officials went on trial on arms trafficking charges. The court excused Menem's absence after a defense lawyer presented a medical certificate indicating that the former president had been suffering from acute anemia. Menem, who led Argentina from 1989 to 1999, and his co-defendants are accused of arranging weapons sales to Croatia, in violation of a 1991 UN Security Council resolution [text] prohibiting the delivery of weapons to the former Yugoslavia, and to Ecuador, breaching a ban by the Organization of American States (OAS) [official website] on sales to that nation and Peru during their 1995 border conflict [AFP report]. The judges presiding over the case plan to send a representative [La Nacion report, in Spanish] to Menem's home in La Rioja province to verify his health claims and are reportedly considering whether to travel there with the prosecutor to fulfill a requirement that the indictment be read in Menem's presence. The trial is expected to last seven months. AP has more.

In May, an Argentine prosecutor filed a petition [JURIST report] seeking the arrests of Menem and five others accused of obstructing an investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center [AMIA backgrounder, in Spanish] in Buenos Aires. In 2004, an Argentine judge conducted an investigation [JURIST report] into the possible connection between Swiss bank accounts allegedly held by Menem and the bombing, which killed 85 people. Menem was placed under house arrest [CNN report] on arms-trafficking charges in 2001 but was freed later that year. In 2004, he moved to Chile, where a court refused to extradite him [BBC report] for questioning on corruption charges. He returned to Argentina [JURIST report] later that year after arrest warrants were withdrawn. He was elected to the Argentine Senate in 2005.

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