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Tuesday, 1 May, 2001, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
Menem ordered to answer arms charge
former Argentine president Carlos Menem
Carlos Menem denies any wrongdoing
The former president of Argentina, Carlos Menem, has been ordered to testify on charges that he was involved in illegal arms deals during the 1990s.

A federal judge subpoenaed Mr Menem to appear before a tribunal on 13 July.


We will triumph...lies have short legs

Carlos Menem
The charges relate to weapons and ammunition being illegally sold to Croatia during a UN arms embargo, and Ecuador during its border war with Peru.

The flamboyant former president denies any wrongdoing, and his supporters have backed him publicly in demonstrations in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

However, State Prosecutor Carlos Stronelli said: "There is sufficient evidence to warrant interrogating him as 'head of the illicit association'."

'A sinister web'

Mr Menem told reporters that the move was "a sinister web woven by certain sectors of the Argentinas political community".

He added: "We will triumph. Lies have short legs."

If found guilty, the former president - who served from 1989 - 1999 - could face up to 10 years in prison.

The weapons sales were allegedly carried out through secret decrees authorising sales to Venezuela and Panama - which has no army - which were eventually re-routed to war zones in Croatia and Ecuador.

'Boost for democracy'

The federal judge's decision follows allegations of Mr Menem's involvement made last week by a private lawyer.

The local media have called the decision without precedent in Argentina, and some politicians have praised the move as a boost for democracy.

"I congratulate the judge and the prosecutors because they could be starting a process that sweeps Argentina clean of institutionalised corruption," said independent Congresswoman Alicia Castro.

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See also:

24 Apr 01 | Americas
Prosecutor wants Menem in court
27 Oct 99 | Americas
Menem blamed for Peronists' defeat
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