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Former Argentine president indicted

By Carolina Cayazzo
CNN Correspondent

BUENOS AIRES (CNN) -- Former Argentine President Carlos Menem was indicted and ordered to stand trial Wednesday in connection with an illegal arms sales investigation.

Menem was first detained and placed under house arrest June 7. He remains under house arrest in what federal Judge Jorge Urso, who ordered the trial, called "preventive detention."

Menem's attorney, Oscar Roger, said his client is a "bit angry" over the new development.

"Knowing Menem, I insist that this does not depress him," Roger said. "He must be a bit angry as he was before, because of the unfairness of this situation. I can only think that he must be even more upset today after these new restrictions to his freedom that are completely unjust."

Constitutional lawyer Ricardo Monner Sans, who initiated the investigation of Menem in 1995, said Wednesday's decision was an important one for democracy.

"In the face of the law, it's necessary that a president or former president come to the court and say the reasons and, of course, go to prison if there are elements that justify this decision," he said.

Menem is accused of heading an illicit organization that illegally sold rifles and artillery to Croatia in 1991 and Ecuador in 1995, despite U.N. arms embargoes. The activity allegedly took place while Menem was president.

Urso said Menem, 71, was responsible for forging documents that led to the trade. The judge ordered a freeze on $3 million of Menem's personal assets.

If convicted, Menem -- who has disputed the charges and described the investigation as a political persecution -- could be sentenced to between five and 10 years in jail.

Under Argentine law, a person older than 70 can serve a prison sentence under house arrest instead of jail.

Also indicted were a former army chief and a former defense minister, accused of being organizers of the group. A former foreign minister was indicted as well, charged with being a member of that organization.

Menem's attorneys said he would fight the charges.

• Presidency of Argentina

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