Carlos Menem to stand trial over Jewish center bombing
Former Argentinian president to face trial for obstruction of justice in a probe of the 1994 attack in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, injured 300
Former Argentine president Carlos Menem was ordered Friday to stand trial for obstruction of justice in a probe of the 1994 bombing of a building housing a Jewish center that killed 85 people.
Justice officials said Judge Ariel Lijo ordered the trial for Menem, president 1989-1999, and former judge Juan Jose Galeano, who was in charge of the investigation for 10 years but was dismissed from the case in 2004.
Some 300 people were wounded in the attack that leveled the seven-floor Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. No one has ever been convicted in the bombing.
Menem, 81, was initially charged in 2009 with concealing and tampering with evidence and abusing authority to cover up what was then called a "Syrian connection."
Argentine prosecutors allege that Tehran planned and financed the car bombing, which was carried out by a cell from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Prosecutors now say there is evidence that Argentine state intelligence services and security forces covered up and erased tracks for local accomplices of the attackers during the Menem administration.
Officials previously said Menem, who was born in Argentina to Syrian immigrants, and his former staff stole evidence to hide the involvement of Syrian-Argentine businessman Alberto Kanoore Edul in the bombing, and destroyed evidence that would have incriminated him.
Kanoore Edul, whose family was friendly with Menem, died in 2010.
Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor on Friday praised Argentina for reinvigorating its investigation of the terrorist attack in Buenos Aires, saying "I think they're reenergizing" their work on the case.
"In the past there was not a real motivation to check (the facts)," he said. "I see it differently today. One should give them credit for it. I see it differently today on the Argentinean side."
The bombing was the worst attack of its kind in Argentina, which has the largest Jewish community in the Americas outside the United States, and the second large-scale anti-Jewish strike in Buenos Aires that decade.
In 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was leveled in a bombing that killed 22 people and wounded 200.
Menem, a two-term president from the ruling Peronist party, was once wildly popular, and his fondness for fast cars and women half his age and almost twice his height amused rather than angered Argentines.
But his popularity faded as corruption scandals emerged, his tough free-market policies alienated his electorate, and the economy deteriorated.
Last year, he was cleared of charges that he allegedly orchestrated the smuggling of arms to Croatia and Ecuador in the 1990s.
Menem is currently serving in Argentina's senate. This does not give him immunity from testifying in court, but if he is found guilty, his fellow senators would have to impeach him first to serve any sentence.
Other people called to stand trial include the former head of state intelligence, Hugo Anzorreguy; his deputy Juan Carlos Anchezar; former police chief Jorge Palacios; and a former federal police agent.
For years Argentina has been seeking the extradition of eight Iranian officials – including Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, former Prime Minister Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati – accused of being the "intellectual authors" of the bombing.
Iran has denied any role in the attacks.