Argentina's Menem convicted of weapons smuggling

Buenos Aires, Mar 8 (EFE).- An Argentine federal court on Friday convicted former President Carlos Menem of aggravated smuggling in connection with illegal arms sales during his 1989-1999 tenure, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The verdict overturns a lower court's ruling two years ago and orders that tribunal to sentence Menem, 82, and the other defendants convicted in the case.

Menem, who was not in court to hear the verdict, has parliamentary immunity as a senator.

The three-judge panel of Raul MadueƱo, Luis Maria Cabral and Juan Carlos Gemignani also convicted former Defense Minister Oscar Camilion and retired army Col. Diego Palleros.

A one-time administrator and several ex-employees of state arms maker Fabricaciones Militares also were convicted in the case.

But the appeals court upheld the lower court's decision to absolve Menem's erstwhile adviser and former brother-in-law, Emir Yoma, and two men who held senior positions in the foreign ministry.

Under Argentine law, Menem and the others convicted in the case may appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Members of the Argentine government conspired to send weapons to Croatia between 1991 and 1995, in violation of a U.N. embargo against arms sales to belligerents in the Balkan conflict.

The conspirators also sold arms to Ecuador in 1995, when that country was engaged in an undeclared war with Peru over a border dispute, and despite the fact that Argentina - as one of several nations mediating the dispute - was expressly banned from selling weapons to either party.

In both instances, the perpetrators are said to have falsified documents to disguise the true destination of the arms shipments, claiming that the consignments for Croatia were bound for Panama and those going to Ecuador would be sent to Venezuela.

Menem was first prosecuted for the arms deals in 2001, but a Supreme Court that was still packed with judges he had appointed threw out the charges.