BUENOS AIRES (Jul. 5)
As the 12th anniversary nears of the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s Jewish community is focusing on investigations into the country’s former president and one of his Cabinet ministers. Once divided over the complexities of the probe into the July 18, 1994, attack at the AMIA center, the Jewish community is calling for a full investigation of former President Carlos Menem and his interior minister, Carlos Corach, for allegedly preventing an impartial investigation into the case.
If the probe never gets to the bottom of the AMIA attack, which killed 85 people and wounded 300, it should help determine if and why there was a conspiracy to convict innocent people in the original AMIA trial. Was it total incompetence or a frame-up?
Increasingly, it seems that Federal Judge Ariel Lijo may call in Menem for interrogation.
A brief submitted late last month by Menem’s former intelligence chief, Hugo Anzorreguy, directly implicated Menem in a $400,000 payoff apparently made by Judge Juan Jose Galeano to one of the key witnesses to alter his testimony and finger Buenos Aires police officials in the bombing.
The three-year trial — conducted by a three-judge body — of those police officials ended in 2003 with across-the-board acquittals. The final verdict also called for a full investigation of Galeano, two of his prosecutors, three top intelligence officials, the top Jewish community leader, and the witness who received the payment. Galeano was impeached from the bench last year.
Lijo is investigating the irregularities, which go far beyond the money believed to have been paid to the witness. Among other charges are the burning of evidence such as audiotapes and videotapes of interrogations; not protecting evidence such as rubble from the demolished building, which was dumped into the river after the bombing; utilizing ex-torturers and human rights violators as paid investigators of the court; conducting illegal wiretaps and not protecting the crime scene.
“They did nothing to investigate the bombing,” said Abraham Kaul, AMIA’s former president.
Adriana Reisfeld of Memoria Activa, one of the groups representing family and friends of the victims of the attack, said that if testimony implicated Menem, “then of course he should be called in to be questioned. To not do so would be an absolute travesty for the Argentine justice system.”
Sergio Burstein of Familiares y Amigos, another group of victims’ relatives, said Anzorreguy’s brief “makes clear that Menem had given the order to do everything necessary and possible to cover up the bombing. It is clear to anybody who has followed the investigation that nothing was done without Menem knowing about it or giving the OK to do it.”
Menem left office in 1999. He has faced a litany of court cases, mainly on corruption charges, and was jailed for a short time in 2001.
Last year he lost a senatorial election but won enough votes to attain a minority seat in the Upper House. It is unclear whether Menem’s legislative position would exempt him from being interrogated by Lijo.
Lijo is expected to make a decision on whether to try to interrogate Menem and other high officials of Menem’s government after a two-week winter break.