Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ex-judge Guilty In Argentina Of Cover-Up In 1994 Jewish Bombing Case

People hold up pictures of those who died in the AMIA Jewish center bombing that killed 85 people as they commemorate the attack's 22nd anniversary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, July 18, 2016. File photo

The former Argentine judge who led the probe into the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires was jailed for his role in a cover-up Thursday, but the country's former president Carlos Menem was acquitted.

Juan Jose Galeano -- who for a decade led the initial investigation into Argentina's worst terror attack -- was jailed for six years for concealment and violation of evidence.

Former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in obstructing the probe of the bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) center, which killed 85 people and injured 300 others.

They were among 13 defendants facing a slew of corruption and obstruction of justice charges in a trial that lasted four years.

"I am at peace. We wanted the truth and they are going to pay for what they did," said Jorge Burstein, a member of an association for the AMIA victims.

But he added that the "investigation must continue."

No one has ever been convicted of the bombing, though Argentina -- and Israel -- have long pointed the finger at Iran.

They suspect a Lebanese Hezbollah operative of carrying out the suicide bombing on Tehran's orders.

But decades of investigation in Argentina have been roiled by political interference and allegations of high-level corruption.

Shady dealings

On Thursday -- nearly 25 years after the bombing -- the court sentenced Carlos Telledin, a used car dealer who sold the van that contained the bomb, to three-and-a-half years in jail.

Prosecutors said Galeano paid Telledin -- who was also a police informant -- $400,000 to implicate a group of police officers early on in the probe.

Galeano however denied prosecutors' assertions that he had acted on the orders of Menem, who is now 88.

Prosecutors had called for a four-year jail sentence for Menem, Argentina's president from 1989-1999, on grounds that he ordered the cover-up.

The aging statesman gave little away in his testimony to the court, keeping mum on what his lawyer said were state secrets that could affect Argentina's "peaceful coexistence with other nations."

Argentina's President Carlos Menem wearing a presidential sash while attending Te Deum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 9, 1996.
Argentina's President Carlos Menem wearing a presidential sash while attending Te Deum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, July 9, 1996.

As he left the court Thursday, Menem's lawyer Omar Daer described the former president as "relieved," adding that the court had shown "that there never was an order on his part to stop the investigation."

Menem was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 for violating an international arms embargo in a weapons deal. Again, in 2015, he received a four-and-a-half-year sentence for bribing officials.

But his status as a member of the Argentine senate means that he has benefited from immunity from imprisonment.

Buried leads

Decades of obstructed investigation meant a key line of enquiry in the case, the so-called Syrian track, was abandoned -- a lapse lamented by prosecutor Miguel Yivoff during the trial.

That track led to Syrian businessman Alberto Kanoore Edul, a boyhood friend of Menem. The prosecutor said that on the day of the attack, the businessman had spoken with Telledin.

Galeano, the ex-judge, said during the trial that the investigation was flawed by problems within the Argentine secret services.

He was accused of acting on Menem's orders to drop the Syrian track of the investigation implicating Edul and other businessmen linked to the purchase of the bomb materials.

In addition to Galeano and the intelligence chief, two police officers and two former prosecutors in the case were also sentenced to jail time.

However, a former Jewish community leader, Ruben Beraja, as well as a lawyer and two former members of the intelligence services, were acquitted.

Prosecutors separately indicted ex-president Cristina Kirchner in 2017 for whitewashing Iran's alleged role in the attack.

Kirchner had the Argentine Congress's backing for a 2012 political deal with Iran to allow Iranian suspects to be questioned in their own country by Argentine prosecutors.

The deal was never ratified by Tehran, but prosecutors investigating Kirchner for corruption say the deal was effectively a cover-up to absolve Iran in return for lucrative trade deals with her government.

Tehran has always refused to hand over Iranian diplomats suspected of having participated in the planning of the attack.