BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's former president, Carlos Menem, Thursday refused to testify in the trial against him and 12 others, for covering up the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Argentine Jewish community center in the capital, which left 85 dead.
"I refuse to testify," said Menem, 85, at the Argentine Federal Court 2.
Menem, who served as president from 1989 till 1999, is attending the trial through video conference from his residence in La Rioja, after the court granted him permission to do so on health grounds.
Menem refused to testify on grounds that he was under obligation to maintain 'state secrets' which only the Senate could lift.
The defense team, on behalf of the former president and current senator, filed a petition for this 'obligation' to be lifted before he could testify, which was rejected by the Court.
Menem's lawyers alleged that Menem's testimony "could affect the interests" of the nation and adversely affect Argentina's relations with other countries.
The members of the Court said as per information from the legal wing of the President's Office, Menem was not under any restriction to keep him from testifying.
With Menem's refusal, the Court ruled that the written statement provided by the accused during the investigation be read out instead.
While the investigation was underway, Menem had denied having ordered the judicial inquiry to refrain from pursuing what is known as the 'Syrian track'.
The 'Syrian track' led to suspicions on a businessman of Syrian origin Alberto Kanoore Edul, whose family was originally from the same town as the Menem family.
At the hearing, Juan Jose Galeano, another defendant and former judge, also invoked his right to not testify, saying he will give explanations only at the appropriate moment.
Besides Menem and Galeano, the other accused include former commissioner of Federal Police Jorge Palacios, lawyer Carlos Telleldin and ex-intelligence head Hugo Anzorreguy, among others.
The thirteen accused are facing charges over several irregularities, including an alleged bribe of $40,000 to Telleldin to incriminate Buenos Aires police.
Other irregularities include the 'loss' of some 60 tapes containing wiretap conversations between Argentine secret service and suspected locals working with terrorists.
The AMIA bombing, whose perpetrators are yet to be prosecuted, was the second attack on Jewish offices in Argentina.
In 1992, the Embassy of Israel in Buenos Aires was bombed, leaving 29 dead, an attack attributed to the Hezbollah.