BUENOS AIRES - Former Argentine president Carlos Menem was convicted on Friday of orchestrating arms smuggling while in office. The Appeals Court issued a guilty verdict against the 82-year-old Menem, who ruled from 1989-1999, and his then defense minister, Oscar Camilion, for the smuggling of 6,500 tons of weapons and ammunition to Croatia and Ecuador. Sentencing was to take place in a different court. Menem was initially acquitted of the charges in 2011 along with more than a dozen other defendants, but prosecutors appealed. Menem was not present in the courtroom, because of health problems.
Ten other defendants were also convicted besides him and the ex-minister, including a former army colonel turned arms trafficker. Specifically, Menem was convicted of "aggravated smuggling," regarded as a graver offence because the crime involved war materiel and was carried out by government officials, according to the verdict, seen by AFP. Sentencing will be done by the lower court which first acquitted Menem. Aggravated smuggling carries a sentence of between four and 12 years in jail. The charges related to three decrees the Peronist former president signed for shipments made in the early 1990s. Menem has admitted signing the decrees, but insists the transactions were legal because the weapons - rifles, artillery, mortars, anti-tank rockets and ammunition - were being sent to countries at peace. The weapons were labeled as being destined for Panama and Venezuela, but this was ultimately deemed a maneuver to dodge weapons embargoes the in force against Croatia and Ecuador.