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Argentina’s Ex-President Menem Sentenced to 7 Years of Prison

June 13 (Bloomberg) -- An Argentine court sentenced former President Carlos Menem to seven years in prison for smuggling weapons to Croatia during the Yugoslav civil war of the 1990s, and to Ecuador.

A federal court in Buenos Aires will ask the Senate to lift the 82-year-old Peronist party supporter’s immunity from imprisonment so he can serve out the sentence.

Menem pegged Argentina’s currency to the U.S. dollar in 1991, ushering in an almost decade-long boom in foreign investment. Within three years of his departure from office in 1999, Argentina had defaulted on $95 billion in bonds and abandoned the peso peg. That didn’t stop Menem being elected to the Senate for La Rioja province in 2005.

As a Senator, Menem has sided with the government in key votes. Last year, he voted in favor of the nationalization of the oil company YPF SA by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who said that its Spanish owner Repsol SA had failed to invest sufficiently in the country. Menem had sold the company during his time in office.

In March, a court found Menem and his former Defense Minister Oscar Camilion guilty of orchestrating the sale of tons of weapons to the former Yugoslavia and Ecuador, in violation of international embargoes. The weapons were officially destined for Panama and Venezuela.

Menem, who was placed under house arrest in 2001 in the case, has denied any wrongdoing. The ruling can still be overturned by Argentina’s Supreme Court, and, given Menem’s age, it’s unclear whether he would serve out the sentence in jail should lawmakers vote to lift his immunity.

Argentine troops were part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and Buenos Aires was a guarantor of the peace process in a border conflict between Ecuador and Peru.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net.

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