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Investigation of Former Argentine President Begins - 2002-07-25


Argentina's Justice Department and the country's taxing authority have begun investigating former president Carlos Menem, after he admitted he has a Swiss bank account. The new scandal follows allegations earlier this week that Mr. Menem accepted a $10 million bribe.

Former Argentine President Carlos Menem is the subject of a new double-barreled investigation that could shoot down his hopes of serving another term in office.

The Argentine government's Office of Anticorruption and the General Tax Directorate, Argentina's tax collection agency, are investigating Mr. Menem's bank account in Switzerland.

Wednesday, Mr. Menem admitted that he has the account, and that he has kept it secret since 1986.

If the investigations lead to charges and Mr. Menem is found guilty of what is termed, "malicious omission," because he previously denied having the account, he could be fined as much as $100,000 and sentenced to up to two years in prison.

Mr. Menem also would be banned from holding public office, which would sink his current bid for another term as president. He is considered one of the leading presidential candidates. The general election is scheduled for March 2003.

Mr. Menem said he opened the Swiss account with $200,000, a reparation he received from the government, for time spent in jail during Argentina's military dictatorship.

The account has earned interest over time and is now worth $650,000.

Mr. Menem's admission follows a front-page story in The New York Times newspaper, which quoted testimony from a former Iranian intelligence officer. The former president was said to have accepted a bribe to impede the probe into the 1994 terror attack against Argentina's largest Jewish community center.

The ex-spy was quoting as telling Argentine authorities that Iran planned and carried out the bombing and then deposited $10 million in Mr. Menem's Swiss account as a payoff, so he would block the investigation.

Mr. Menem has denied the story, saying his political opponents are trying to sabotage his presidential bid.