A prosecutor sought the arrest of former Argentine president Carlos Menem on Thursday, accusing him of covering up the involvement of a Syrian-Argentine businessman in the country's bloodiest terrorist attack.
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman also requested the arrests of Menem’s brother, Munir, and four other men. Since the former president is now a senator and thus immune from prosecution, Nisman also asked the Senate to withdraw his immunity.
Eighty-five people were killed and 200 were injured when a bomb exploded in a van outside the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AIMA) in July 1994.
While victims’ families have suspected Menem’s involvement for years, the arrest request represents the first time that Menem — who denies the allegations — has been formally linked to an alleged cover-up of the attack.
The prosecutor said in his petition to Judge Ariel Lijo that Menem and his aides tried to cover up the possible involvement of businessman Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul in the bombing. The center, a symbol for Argentina’s Jewish population of more than 200,000, was destroyed two years after a bomb flattened the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people.
Argentine prosecutors accuse Iranian officials of organizing the bombing, but also say that some Argentines were involved.
“New evidence that was overlooked now demonstrates important ties of friendship between Menem and Kanoore, and these ties obliged the government to protect” Kanoore, said Olga Degtiar of the Family and Friends of the Victims of the AIMA Attack.
Menem was familiar with Kanoore, since their families both migrated from the town of Yabrud in Syria, but the extent of their contact was not immediately clear.
Kanoore has not been formally charged and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Investigators have said Kanoore’s phone records and address book showed that he was in contact with at least two other suspects.
Phone intercepts purportedly show that Kanoore made a phone call eight days before the attack to Carlos Telleldin, the used car salesman believed to have supplied the terrorists with the van that carried the bomb.
Menem, who governed from 1989 to 1999, insisted on his innocence on Thursday and blamed his political opponents, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner, saying they had used the case “systematically and vilely.”
“It is a libelous and nasty fable,” said Menem, 77.
Prosecutors working under Menem’s administration arrested at least 16 suspects, but the case collapsed in 2004 when a federal court accused the judge handling the case of authorizing a bribe for a witness to divert the probe away from those responsible.
Nisman is the same prosecutor whose request for the arrest of former senior Iranian officials was upheld last year by Interpol.