Speaking with Jonathan Viale on CNN en Español yesterday, Former President Carlos Menem offered the first interview after God knows how long and yes, it was everything you expected it to be. (Well, if what you were expecting was a plethora of statements that can be attributed to cynicism, advanced age or simply not giving a shit about anything. And maybe knowing that if he hasn’t had to face any consequences for his actions by now, he probably never will.)
You can watch excerpts of the interview here or below.
The 88-year-old Senator for La Rioja province offered his opinion about the presidencies of his two most recent successors, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Mauricio Macri; told viewers what he thinks about the death of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman and, in what was perhaps the most memorable part of the interview, analyzed his fragile legal situation and the corruption during his own tenure as head of state.
Regarding his legal woes, he said that there are still no firm sentences in the cases against him, essentially saying that they remain open, at least for now. As for the rampant corruption that plagued both of his presidencies, the former president stated that, unlike in all other Argentine governments, there was no corruption during his time in office.
Yup. Clearly these are the statements that caused most people yesterday to laugh, cry or hysterically do both at the same time – so let’s take a look at them first and then go over what the justice system has to say about it.
“THERE WAS NO CORRUPTION IN MY GOVERNMENT”
When asked if he was currently holding office as a senator to take advantage of the parliamentary immunity it guarantees, taking into account his numerous legal woes, Menem said he was not.
“Parliamentary immunity does not protect me and I don’t want to be protected by it. They can investigate all they want, I won’t take advantage of this to avoid the investigation. In all governments, except my own, there has been corruption,” he said without bursting into laughter.
To provide just two examples that rebuke the statement, we can mention first that in 2015 Menem was actually found guilty in a case investigating the payment of bribes to officials from his administration during his two tenures and he is not behind bars because the ruling is not firm yet. The case is currently sitting on the lap of the Cassation Court, the highest criminal court in the country. Should it confirm the ruling, he could actually be sentenced to prison (or house arrest in his case, given his age.)
And secondly, last year he was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of arms-trafficking to Ecuador and Croatia during his time in office.
But if Menem were to argue that the sentences are not firm yet, we can mention the case of late official María Julia Alsogaray, who actually served time behind bars as a result of corruption crimes committed during his administration.
Nonetheless, the former President further rejected the idea of using his position as a senator as means of protection, arguing that his current line of work has to do with the fact that he has “already been president and governor, and has no other option left other than being a senator,” as he “can’t live without politics.” “There are no convictions. There are cases that are open, some are closing. There are others that are close to ruling against me. I don’t know why, but oh well, we need to find out,” he said.
Menem was elected senator for the first time in 2005, and was reelected for a third consecutive term last year. Although the National Electoral Court initially prevented him from running due to the arms-trafficking sentence, he was later cleared by an Appeals Court, which argued that the sentence is not firm yet – meaning he could still appeal. He effectively did so and, until the Supreme Court determines his ultimate fate, he is legally off the hook.
If any of the two mentioned sentences is confirmed, he could be stripped from immunity by his peers in the Upper House and actually serve time – although surely in a 72-hole golf course in La Rioja.
His opinion on the presidencies of Cristina Kirchner and Mauricio Macri’s
The former President considers that the current head of state, Mauricio Macri, is not doing a good job: “Evidently, we are facing a situation that is not very good. We have serious problems that are still not being solved, like inflation.”
However, he believes that former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has done a much worse job because “society did not improve collectively.” “On the contrary, I believe we took a few steps back, and that caused a lot of damage,” he added. At the time of grading her administration from one to ten, one being the worse, he gave it a one.
His theory about the death of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman
The former President assured that he supports the theory about Nisman being killed as a result of accusing Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other high-ranking officials from her administration of covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 AMIA terrorist attack in exchange for trade deals. This argument was supported by a report from Border Patrol analysts, who concluded precisely that.
However, Menem upped the ante and said the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration had something to do with his death. “Who was he going to accuse? The former President. So, if you are somewhat close to the facts, you reach the conclusion that evidently a sector within that government had him killed,” he assured.
Predictably, Fernández and the other accused have denied any involvement in Nisman’s death. The case has already finished the investigation stage and now a tribunal will determine their fate. However, as Menem knows well, the process could stretch for years, taking into account the numerous possibilities they have to appeal. But should they be found guilty by a firm ruling at some point in the future, Menem would probably welcome them into the club.