Juan José Galeano, the former federal judge who led the probe into the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre, was jailed for his role in a cover-up Thursday at the end of a four-year trial. The most high-profile person in the dock, however, former president Carlos Menem, was acquitted.
Menem, 88, was absolved of charges he tried to interfere with the investigation into Argentina's worst-ever terrorist attack, which left 85 dead and hundreds injured.
A dozen other people were also acquitted of that charge.
The ruling by the three-judge panel in Buenos Aires came in a trial ordered in August 2015, based on allegations that Menem and other government officials tried to divert attention in the bombing investigation away from a Syrian businessman who was a Menem family friend.
"In these three years there was not a single element that could justify an illicit act on the part of the former president," Menem's lawyer, Omar Daer, told reporters after the sentence was delivered. "He feels relieved."
Galeano was handed six years in prison for concealment and violation of evidence by the court.
Former intelligence chief Hugo Anzorreguy was also sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail for his role in the cover-up.
The court also sentenced Carlos Telleldín, a used car dealer who sold the van that contained the bomb used to attack the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) centre, to three-and-a-half years in jail.
The judges found Galeano paid Telleldín US$400,000 to implicate a group of police officers in the bombing. Galeano denied prosecutors' assertions that he had acted on the orders of Menem.
Prosecutors had called for a four-year jail sentence for Menem, who served as president from 1989 to1999, on grounds that he ordered a cover-up. Even if convicted, he likely would have avoided prison due to his legal protections as a senator.
He gave little away in his testimony, saying state secrets meant he was prevented from presenting bombshell evidence. His lawyer explained to the court in 2016 that Menem declined to reveal any information "that could affect the current government, the interests of the nation, and peaceful coexistence with other nations."
A group of relatives of victims of the AMIA bombing were quick to issue criticism of the court's rulings.
"It is more than clear – and the evidence proves it – that the Menem government knew that the attack would happen and did absolutely nothing to avoid it, much less to clarify it," said the group, Memoria Activa. "He is and will be one of the principals responsible for impunity in the AMIA case."
No-one has ever been convicted of the bombing, though Argentina – and Israel – have long pointed the finger at Tehran, implicating several former Iranian officials. They suspect a Lebanese Hezbollah operative of carrying out the suicide bombing on Tehran's orders. Iran's government denies any involvement in the attack and has refused to turn over those people sought for trial in Argentina.
But decades of investigation in Argentina have been roiled by political interference and allegations of corruption.
The bombing investigation was plagued by irregularities, according to a court ruling in 2004. That court acquitted a number of people who had been charged as part of an alleged "local connection" in the attack. The court asked for an investigation into members of the government and judicial system for their roles in the investigation's problems.
Though acquitted on the interference allegation Thursday, several of Menem's co-defendants were convicted on other charges.
Among the main ones, Galeano, who headed the initial bombing investigation, was found guilty of embezzlement and malfeasance and sentenced to six years in prison.
The court found that the US$400,000 paid to Telleldín, an auto parts dealer, was given in return for implicating four police officers in the supposed "local connection."
The money came from Argentina's intelligence secretariat, then headed by Anzorrequy. He was found guilty Thursday on charges of embezzlement and concealment and received a four-year prison sentence.
In addition, former prosecutors Eamon Mullen and José Barbaccia were convicted of not fulfilling their duties as public officials and each sentenced to two years.