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The BBC's Linda Duffin
"The case has provoked extraordinary scenes in Buenos Aires"
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The BBC's James Reynolds
"He says he believes in the judicial system"
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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Menem under house arrest
Carlos Menem, with wife Cecilia Bolocco, arrives in court by car
Carlos Menem arrives at court with wife Cecilia Bolocco
Former Argentine President Carlos Menem has been placed under house arrest in Buenos Aires after being arrested on charges of organising illegal arms sales during his time in office.

Menem facts
Born in 1930 of Syrian parents
Trained as a lawyer
President for 10 years until 1999
Still leader of his Peronist Party
Married Chilean ex-beauty queen Cecilia Bolocco
Plans to run for president in 2003
In a move which has shocked his supporters, Mr Menem was taken from a Buenos Aires courtroom in a helicopter after having been arrested for his part in the illegal selling of thousands of tons of arms to Ecuador and Croatia in 1991 and 1995.

His new wife, the Chilean beauty queen, Cecilia Bolocco, accompanied her husband into the helicopter, which has taken them to a house in a Buenos Aires suburb.

It is thought that the former Argentine leader will be held there whilst the investigation continues, as permitted under Argentine law for those over 70 years old.

Mr Menem had gone to the court to testify before a federal judge about his alleged role in the scandal.

'I am innocent'

Three of his closest aides have already been arrested on suspicion of organising the sale of weapons and munitions to Croatia and Ecuador, in violation of international embargoes.

Investigators have alleged that Mr Menem and his aides organised the sale of tonnes of weapons which were officially destined for Panama and Venezuela, but ended up in Croatia and Ecuador respectively.

Mr Menem could face up to 10 years in jail if found guilty of leading the alleged conspiracy.

He denies any wrongdoing.

Judge Jorge Urso had summoned Mr Menem for questioning over what he says is "an illicit organisation" that sought to sell weapons to the two countries while sales were banned.

Mr Menem's nephew called the detention a "political persecution" and said the former president's lawyers would work to clear Mr Menem's name.

Everything was legal, there was nothing against the law

Former President Menem
The news upset crowds of supporters outside the building, some of whom broke down in tears.

The BBC correspondent in Buenos Aires said it came as a shock to the nation, which believed the former president was untouchable.

The arms scandal has haunted Mr Menem since he left office in 1999, and his arrest is thought likely to damage his hopes of re-election in two years' time.

His Peronist party still controls the country's Senate.

General Martin Balza
General Balza was recently arrested
Previous arrests in the case had already fuelled speculation that Mr Menem may also be arrested.

On Wednesday, Mr Menem went on live TV to protest his innocence after the arrest of a former colleague in connection with the arms charges.

Former Argentine army commander General Martin Balza was detained by a federal judge after being accused of organising the sales.

Honeymoon scuppered

Mr Menem's former defence minister, Erman Gonzalez, and ex-brother-in-law, Emir Yoma, have also been arrested in connection with the case and are in jail awaiting trial.

Recently married, the 70-year-old former Argentine president was refused permission on Monday to leave the country to go on honeymoon in Paris and Syria, his parents' homeland.

Mr Menem married former Chilean beauty queen, Cecilia Bolocco, on 26 May.

The federal judge's decision to interrogate Mr Menem followed allegations of his involvement made by a private lawyer.

A recent opinion poll suggested that more than 60% of Argentines thought Mr Menem was guilty.

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See also:

08 Jun 01 | Americas
Menem languishes in gilded cage
07 Jun 01 | Americas
Profile: Carlos Menem
07 Jun 01 | Americas
How arms scandal emerged
06 Jun 01 | Americas
Menem protests his innocence
26 May 01 | Americas
Menem marries his beauty queen
01 May 01 | Americas
Menem ordered to answer arms charge
06 Jan 01 | Americas
Why men envy Menem
28 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Argentina
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