A judge struck down an arrest warrant for ex-president Carlos Menem yesterday, clearing a legal hurdle for the former leader who has been living in neighbouring Chile, while his nephew said that Menem will come back to Argentina on December 22.
Federal Judge Nestor Oyarbide struck down the warrant against the 74-year-old former two-term president, court authorities said. Menem was wanted for questioning as a suspect in a federal court probe of his finances and bank holdings in Switzerland. Federal Prosecutor Carlos Stornelli has appealed the ruling.
Menem, who governed Argentina from 1989 until 1999, spent five months under house arrest in 2001 in connection with a separate investigation into the illegal sale of weapons to Ecuador and Croatia during his administration.
He was cleared of accusations of racketeering in that case but investigations into his finances dating from his time in office have continued to dog the former president, who has avoided travelling to Argentina in recent months over worries he could be detained. Menem has said repeatedly from Chile that he felt he was being persecuted for political reasons. He has been living with his wife, Cecilia Bolocco, a former Chilean beauty queen, and their son Máximo Saúl in the Chilean capital.
Menem has said on several occasions that he still wants to run for president again in 2007. He had no comment yesterday but his nephew Adrián Menem said that the former president wished to return before Christmas.
In October, Swiss officials gave Argentine investigators the latest in a series of bank documents for their probe. Swiss authorities have said they have frozen just under 10 million dollars in bank accounts belonging to Menem and his associates over the past three years. Menem has claimed his money in Switzerland is legal.
The Federal Appeals Court on Wednesday quashed a similar arrest warrant issued by Federal Judge Jorge Urso in a separate case.
The two rulings mean that Menem could return to Argentina, something that his nephew Adrián Menem, a Peronist deputy for La Rioja, said Menem would do on December 22. "The main activity he is going to have will be political. He's organizing a big welcome in La Rioja (his home province)," Adrián Menem said.
Last April Urso and Oyarbide issued separate arrest warrants for Carlos Menem after he failed to return from Chile to answer a court summons but Chile turned down their request, alleging that refusing to testify was not a crime in Chile.
Urso wanted to question Menem on accusations he embezzled up to 60 million dollars in the construction of two prisons during his administration. Oyarbide is probing accusations that the ex-president hid 600,000 dollars from tax authorities in a Swiss bank account.
The former president has a bad reputation among many Argentines who blame his administration's heavy borrowing for paving the way to the crippling 2001 economic crisis.
Menem is a political foe of the left-leaning President Néstor Kirchner although the two belong to the same Peronist party which has dominated Argentine politics for over half a century.