Argentina

Menem accused of taking bribe in 1994 bombing

Argentina is investigating Carlos Menem, the former president, for allegedly taking bribes to cover up Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre in which 86 people died, the Swiss government said yesterday.

BERN – Argentina is investigating Carlos Menem, the former president, for allegedly taking bribes to cover up Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre in which 86 people died, the Swiss government said yesterday.

Folco Galli, a spokesman for the Federal Justice Department, said Argentine justice authorities formally asked Switzerland for judicial aid in the case in December.

“There is a suspicion that Iranian authorities transferred US$10-million to Menem via a Geneva bank account in return for Menem agreeing to say that there was no evidence that Iran was responsible for the attack,” he said.

Argentinian investigators want to establish whether accounts held by Mr. Menem or a former Iranian official ever existed at the bank. Mr. Galli would not name the bank or the official.

Swiss federal authorities passed the Argentinian request to the justice department in Geneva last week, Mr. Galli said.

An explosives-rigged van levelled the seven-storey Argentine Israeli Mutual Aid building in July, 1994. The building was an important symbol of Argentina’s 300,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Latin America.

Iranian terrorists were suspected in the attack, and also were blamed for the 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, which claimed 28 lives.

Last September, 15 former police officers and five others went on trial accused of supplying the stolen van used in the attack and an array of other charges, although none was suspected of direct involvement in the bombing.

The trial is expected to end in July.

No one else has been charged in connection with the attack and Iran has vehemently rejected any suggestions of involvement. Some have questioned whether Islamic extremists might have carried out the bombing in retaliation for Argentina’s participation in the Gulf War. Argentina sent four warships to join a U.S.-led coalition that ejected Iraq’s invasion forces from Kuwait in 1991.

Justice authorities in Geneva are already investigating allegations that money in Swiss accounts belonging or linked to Mr. Menem came from selling arms in defiance of UN embargoes.

On Monday, Bernard Bertossa, Geneva’s chief prosecutor, said two accounts, blocked in October, contained US$10-million. One of the accounts was held in the name of Mr. Menem, his former wife and his daughter. The other belonged to a company which justice officials have refused to name.

Argentine authorities allege Mr. Menem, who was president between 1989 and 1999, headed a small group of former government officials who allegedly diverted weapons worth more than US$100-million to Croatia and Ecuador, both of which were subject to UN embargoes.

Mr. Menem was placed under house arrest in June but released in November after Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled prosecutors failed to prove he led the conspiracy. Switzerland’s investigation, however, is continuing.

After his release, Mr. Menem said he planned to run again for the presidency in 2003.

He has been a fierce critic of President Eduardo Duhalde, who came to power earlier this month amid Argentina’s economic free fall.

The Associated Press, National Post, January 23, 2002

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