(March 3, 2019 / European Jewish Press) Jewish groups reacted with mixed feelings at the verdict of an Argentinian court on Thursday that cleared former President Carlos Menem on charges that he conspired to derail investigations into a deadly bombing at the AMIA (Argentine Israeli Mutual Association) Jewish community center in Buenos Aires 25 years ago.
The 1994 terrorist attack , in which an explosives-laden truck blew up outside the AMIA building in the Argentinian capital, left 85 people dead and hundreds seriously injured.
The federal court sentenced former judge Juan José Galean, who was initially in charge of the investigation into the attack, to six years in jail. He was found guilty of embezzlement and covering up evidence. Galeano said in his defense that the “investigation of the attack on the AMIA was victim of the internal struggles of the intelligence services.”
He was accused of paying $400,000 to Telledin, who supplemented his used-car dealership business with work as a police informant. Prosecutors say Galeano paid him to implicate police in the bombing.
It also handed down a suspended two-year prison sentence against ex-prosecutors Eamon Mullen and José Barbaccia for failing to execute their duties as they related to the case.
The obstruction trial, which dealt with the cover-up of the AMIA attack, marked the first time that top officials were convicted in this case. The cover-up was denounced in 1997 by the relatives of the victims and revealed to the public in 1994.
Investigations into the attack have made little progress. But decades of investigation in Argentina have been roiled by political interference and allegations of corruption.
Argentine courts have blamed the attack on Iran. But no one has been brought to trial in either that case or a deadly 1992 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. Israel has pointed the finger at Iran. A Lebanese Hezbollah operative was suspected of carrying out the suicide bombing on Tehran’s orders.
Another prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in 2015 just hours before he was due to appear in Congress to lay out accusations against another ex-president, Cristina Fernández Kirchner, of plotting to whitewash Iran’s involvement in the bombing.
Prosecutors separately indicted 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 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.
In a joint statement, AMIA and the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), the umbrella Jewish organization of Argentina, expressed satisfaction with the acquittal of Ruben Beraja, former president of DAIA, “a decision that shows that the community leadership acted subject to law, and promoted the investigation to arrive at the truth.”
“As was maintained in the stage of allegations, there was never evidence to maintain the accusation, which obeyed the strategy of wanting to convert victims into criminals,” the statement said.
But the two Jewish groups deplored that despite the accusations that have been heard, “the judicial process has not provided evidence to support the conspiratorial version.”
“AMIA and DAIA reiterate their permanent and unwavering commitment to the search for Truth, Memory and Justice, to achieve total clarification and condemnation of those responsible for planning and committing the worst terrorist attack in the country,” the statement concluded.
The World Jewish Congress said that it was pleased that “for the first time in almost 25 years since the deadliest terrorist attack on Argentinian soil, the court has moved to truly reach justice in this case and hold top officials accountable.”
Ronald S. Lauder, president of the WJC, said: “The families and loved ones of the victims of this attack are still waiting for justice to be served, and for the perpetrators to be brought to trial, both local as well as those working for the long arm of Iran. Hundreds of innocent people, from different religious backgrounds and nationalities, were killed or badly injured, and the masterminds are still free.”