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Argentina's Ex-President Menem Sentenced for Embezzlement

FILE - Former Argentine president Carlos Menem speaks during an interview with Reuters at his home in Buenos Aires, Oct. 6, 2009.

An Argentine court sentenced former President Carlos Menem on Tuesday to four-and-a-half years in prison for embezzlement.

The official judicial news agency said that the local court also sentenced former Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo to three years and six months for his role in illegal payments to staffers authorized by Menem during his 1989-1999 presidency.

Investigators said Menem and Cavallo were part of a scheme to overpay officials and later split the take among all of those involved. The overpayments were intended for security and intelligence expenses.

Menem is currently a senator representing La Rioja province where he was born. That status as a lawmaker protects him from being imprisoned.

The 85-year-old was absent from the proceedings citing health problems.

The court also sentenced former Justice Minister Raul Granillo Ocampo to three years and three months in prison, while former Environment Secretariat Maria Julia Alsogaray was absolved. She also faces other corruption charges and is under house arrest.

Menem remains free despite the seven-year sentence he received in June 2013 after being convicted of smuggling weapons while he was president to Croatia and Ecuador when those countries were subject to international embargos. He has appealed the sentence and has been protected under his parliamentary immunity that can only be removed by the Senate.

Earlier this year, he declined to testify in a separate trial in which he is accused of derailing the investigation into Argentina's worst terrorist attack. The 1994 bombing at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people remains unsolved.