Menem hits the campaign trail as charges are dropped

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The Independent US

Argentina's former president Carlos Menem has begun his campaign to run for the 2003 presidency after being released from house arrest.

Mr Menem, 71, was released on Tuesday after the Supreme Court threw out conspiracy and gunrunning charges that have kept him confined to a friend's mansion since June.

His business partner and former brother-in-law, Emir Yoma, walked free from prison after the judges declared the detention "arbitrary" and said no evidence linked the pair to illegal arms sales to Ecuador and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. The court's 6-2 verdict warned prosecutors against trial by media, although an investigation into money- laundering and corruption is set to continue.

Last month, authorities froze two Swiss bank accounts linked to Mr Menem to expedite the gun-running inquiry.

Critics complained that the Argentine Supreme Court ruling was biased because most of its judges were appointed by Mr Menem and its chief justice shared a law practice with the former president.

Horacio Viqueira, a former congressman, said: "It's shameful. The ruling was dictated by the ex-president's friends. They didn't even have time to read it."

According to Clarin newspaper, the court's quick decision followed a threat from Mr Yoma that he would break his silence over political controversies and suspected graft if Mr Menem was freedfrom house arrest while his business partner stayed in jail.