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Tuesday, 2 December, 1997, 07:02 GMT
Argentina: Commission investigates Nazi links
In the wake of the renewed investigation into Switzerland's links with the Nazis during World War II, Argentina set up a commission of enquiry to establish how much looted gold and money was transferred there. It is also investigating how many Nazi criminals came to Argentina and assessing the impact these dealings with Nazi Germany had on Argentine society. Regional specialist Nick Caister is just back from Argentina

Argentina has long been regarded as one of the countries outside Europe which gave most assistance to Nazi Germany. Although Argentina was officially neutral until the very last days of World War II, the military government in power was strongly influenced by European Fascism. And when Colonel Peron took power in 1946, he was keen to bring Nazi scientists and technicians to Argentina to launch an ambitious nuclear programme and strengthen the airforce.

Between 40,000 and 50,000 Germans went to Argentina between 1945 and 1952. Of these, several hundred are suspected of being active members of the Nazi party in Germany or in other German-occupied European countries.

Two of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, lived there for many years without problems, as did Erich Priebke, recently extradited to Italy for his alleged part in the massacre of more than 300 Italians.

Some Jewish groups in Argentina saw a continued Nazi influence in the armed forces and the police long after the first Peron government. They claimed there was persistent anti-Semitism at an official level, and that neo-nazi propaganda was rife. Speculation and myths about the extent of this influence - and the amounts of money transferred from Nazi Germany into German front companies in Argentina - grew with the years.

It was in 1992 that the government of Carlos Menem decided to try to get at the truth of the matter. For the first time, it allowed access to Interior Minister files from the end of World War II.

Commission of enquiry established

Last year, when Switzerland came under international pressure to investigate and reveal what had happened with all the Nazi money that had arrived there during the War, the Argentine foreign minister Guido di Tella decided to set up a commission of enquiry. The commission has a wide brief that includes trying to establish once and for all how many Nazi criminals came to Argentina, how much looted gold and money was transferred there, and to assess the impact these dealings with Nazi Germany had on Argentine society.

In this way, the Argentine government hopes finally to lay to rest the myths that it was to become the Nazi "Fourth Reich". It wants to prove that it is now a firm friend of the United States and the Western alliance, even if during World War II the country's allegiances were far more doubtful.

Critics say the commission will not get at the secret files still held by the armed forces, and that the whole truth will never be known.

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