BUENOS AIRES — Argentina's former president Carlos Menem was charged Thursday with obstructing a probe into the 1994 bombing of a building housing Jewish charities in Argentina that killed 85 people.
Some 300 people were also wounded in the attack that leveled the seven-floor Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building in Buenos Aires. No one has ever been convicted for the bombing.
Federal Judge Ariel Lijo charged Menem, 79, of "instigating" several crimes, including concealing evidence and abuse of authority.
As part of his investigation of irregularities that took place during the first government inquiry into the July 9, 1994 bombing, Lijo also charged the ex-president's brother Munir Menem, former intelligence services chief Hugo Anzorregui and retired judge Juan Jose Galeano.
Other defendants included former deputy secretary of intelligence Juan Carlos Anchezar and former commissioner Jorge Palacios, who also headed the Antiterrorism Unit and was forced to resign from his post as Buenos Aires police chief on suspicion of concealing evidence in the AMIA case.
In 2005, then-president Nestor Kirchner for the first time acknowledged "the responsibility of the state" in mishandling the bombing probe.
But Menem, who is involved in several corruption and arms smuggling cases linked to his 1989-1999 presidency, enjoys congressional immunity shielding him from any arrest as senator from his home province of La Rioja.
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman asked Lijo last May to indict Menem and his former officials, accusing them of "aggravated concealment" of a "local connection" that provided the logistics to carry out the attack.
Nisman alleged that Menem and his former staff stole evidence to hide the involvement of Syrian-Argentine businessman Alberto Kanoore Edul in the AMIA bombing, and destroyed evidence that would have incriminated him.
Menem was born in Argentina to Syrian immigrants.
Galeano, who was in charge of the investigation for 10 years but was dismissed from the case in 2004, had prosecuted Edulas as an alleged participant, but ultimately cleared and released him.
Prosecutors charge that Edul was linked to Carlos Telledin, who served a 10-year prison term for having armed the car bomb that blew up the Jewish center and then cleared of the charges in 2005. In May, the Supreme Court ordered a new investigation into Telledin.
Buenos Aires accuses Iran of having masterminded the car bombing and of using the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to execute it.
Argentine prosecutors have issued arrest warrants against a Lebanese and several Iranians, including Ahmad Vahidi, the current Iranian minister of defense and then-head of Al Quds, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that operates overseas.
They also sought an arrest warrant against then-Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. Interpol rejected that request but did issue international arrest orders for Vahidi and other Iranians, including former Revolutionary Guards head Mohsen Rezai.
The bombing was the worst terrorist attack in Argentina, which has the largest Jewish community in the Americas outside the United States, and the second large-scale anti-Jewish strike in Buenos Aires that decade.
In 1992, the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires was leveled in a bombing that killed 22 people and wounded 200.
Menem, a two-term president from the ruling Peronist party, was once wildly popular, and his fondness for fast cars and women half his age and almost twice his height amused rather than angered Argentines.
But his popularity faded as corruption scandals emerged, his tough free-market policies alienated his electorate and the economy deteriorated.
The former president also faces charges in a separate case involving his role in a scheme to smuggle weapons to Croatia and Ecuador while both countries were involved in wars in the 1990s.
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