Argentina Convicts Ex-Officials in ’94 Bombing of Jewish Center
BUENOS AIRES — A court in Argentina on Thursday convicted two former senior government officials for obstructing the investigation into the deadly 1994 terrorist attack against a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, the first time any top officials have been held criminally accountable in the case.
The suicide bombing, the worst terrorist assault in the country’s history and one of the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks since World War II, left 85 people dead and more than 300 wounded.
In all, the court sentenced eight people accused of a cover-up, among them a former federal judge and a former head of the intelligence services, but it acquitted five others, including the highest-profile defendant: former President Carlos Menem.
Relatives of the victims, who had regarded the prosecution as the most promising chance to get any semblance of justice in the case, expressed disappointment at the acquittal of Mr. Menem, 88. They also voiced regret that the trial had shed no new light on the questions that have hovered over the attack for almost 25 years: Who committed it, and why?
Advocates for victims of the bombing said the prosecution, which started in 2015, laid bare how dysfunctional and politicized Argentina’s justice system has been in recent decades.
“Over the past 25 years, this case has constantly been used and abused for different political ends — but never to deliver truth and justice to family members,” said Diana Malamud, 59, a member of Active Memory, a group that was instrumental in getting prosecutors to investigate allegations of a cover-up.
“It is incredible that we still don’t know absolutely anything,” added Ms. Malamud, whose husband, Andrés, died in the attack.
Still, some saw progress in the verdicts.
“Even in a very limited fashion, this sentence showed there was a responsibility of the top-line officials of the then-government,” said Laura Ginsberg, 60, whose husband, José Enrique Ginsberg, died in the attack and was a plaintiff in the case.
Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Mr. Menem to a six-year term, alleging that he pushed Juan José Galeano, the judge who originally oversaw the investigation, and prosecutors to stop investigating the possible complicity of Alberto Jacinto Kanoore Edul, an Argentine of Syrian descent, in the attack. Mr. Kanoore has denied any wrongdoing.
One theory is that the bombing was an act of revenge: Mr. Menem, who is also of Syrian descent and who had forged ties with Syria before he became president, terminated an arms deal with Damascus after he was elected.
Mr. Menem declined to give a closing statement before the verdict was rendered, as did Hugo Anzorreguy, the former intelligence chief, who was sentenced to four and a half years in prison. The former deputy intelligence secretary, Juan Carlos Anchézar, was sentenced to three years.
Mr. Galeano, the former judge, was sentenced to six years, the longest term handed down in the case. He was found guilty of playing the most influential role in stymying the investigation.
Prosecutors had accused Mr. Galeano of taking part in a plot to pay a defendant $400,000 from state funds to implicate a group of Buenos Aires police officers in the bombing. They also alleged that he avoided investigating Mr. Kanoore’s possible role in the bombing at the behest of Mr. Menem. In Argentina, judges play a fact-finding role in criminal investigations.
The man who received the bribe, Carlos Telleldín, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
The verdicts can be appealed by both sides.
On Monday, Mr. Galeano angrily denied the accusations and characterized himself as the victim of a political plot, insisting that while he may have made “mistakes,” he did not commit any crimes.
As a judge, Mr. Galeano oversaw the investigation that ended with the acquittal in 2004 of several police officers who were implicated in the attack. He was impeached a year later.