Well, if you were one of those people celebrating the end of former President Carlos Menem’s political career, you better hold the confetti.
Turns out that he has been cleared to run for a third term in the Senate in the next legislative elections this October 22, despite having been sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of arms-trafficking to Ecuador and Croatia during his time in office.
The decision was made by an Appeals Court after the Supreme Court annulled a ruling from the National Electoral Court, which had recently prevented him from running. The Appeals Court argued that the objections to Menem’s candidacy had been presented out of term, and that his criminal conviction is not firm yet — because he can still appeal.
The former President loosely won the primary elections last August 13th with 44 percent of the votes in his native province of La Rioja, 10 points ahead of the runner-up, Cambiemos’ former Defense Minister Julio Martínez. Even though the ruling preventing him from running was firm and standing during the primaries, the Electoral Court let him do it anyway after admitting that there was no time to print new ballots without his name and face.
The decision to let him run will be appealed, but judicial sources told Clarín that it’s unlikely the Cassation Court — the highest instance before the Supreme Court — will manage to issue a decision before October’s general elections, considering that it probably won’t have enough time to go over the lengthy case.
Should this be the case — which will be, except for an electoral catastrophe — Menem will win a new six-year term in the Upper House and with it, the parliamentary immunity that comes along.
However, this doesn’t mean that the 86-year-old former President will be able to cling to his seat until the end of his days to avoid answering for his crimes. Should his sentence be confirmed, his peers can present a motion to strip him from his immunity and allow the Judiciary to determine his fate.
But taking into account that Senate members haven’t tried to have Menem removed from his seat despite already being sentenced in the arms-trafficking case by a lower court in 2013 — an appeals court modified the decision in 2015, and the Cassation Court changed it back to the initial in July 2017 — it’s not certain that two thirds of the 72 senators would back a potential initiative of the kind.
Will Menem spend his last days in the Senate or serving house arrest in a country club in La Rioja? We’ll see.