Former Argentine President Indicted

From Times Wire Services

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem was indicted by a federal judge Wednesday, accused of heading an "illicit organization" that illegally funneled weapons to Croatia and Ecuador during the 1990s.

In a 600-page indictment, Federal Judge Jorge Urso ordered Menem to remain in police custody, froze $3 million of his assets and restricted visits to a minimum at the Buenos Aires villa where the former president is being held.

Menem, who was president from 1989 to 1999 and implemented sweeping free-market reforms, was placed under house arrest June 7, after Urso ordered him held in connection with the arms trafficking case.

In the indictment, Urso ordered the 71-year-old Menem be tried for allegedly diverting 6,500 tons of weapons that were officially destined for Panama and Venezuela.

The shipments--to Croatia and Ecuador in the early and mid-1990s--allegedly occurred while those countries were under international arms embargoes. Ecuador and Peru waged a brief border war in 1995, and the embargo against Croatia stemmed from fighting in the former Yugoslav federation.

Urso also indicted three former top Menem advisors, including Antonio Erman Gonzalez--a former defense minister--and former army Chief of Staff Martin Balza. Former Foreign Minister Guido di Tella also was indicted but was not ordered detained, judicial authorities said.

The indictment accuses Menem of operating "from the shadows" and undertaking a leading role in an "illicit association" that sought to profit from the arms sales. The sales were ordered by Menem and several high-ranking officials.

If convicted, Menem could be sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. The former president has repeatedly declared his innocence, calling the sales "absolutely legal."

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