Rodrigo Ruiz Ciancia / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Public outcry — and intrigue — in Argentina death probe

Argentinians riled over suspicious death of prosecutor who accused president of Iran cover-up

In an abrupt change of position, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said the death of a prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center was not a suicide, as she had initially implied.

Alberto Nisman, lead investigator into the attack that killed 85 people at the AMIA Jewish center, was found dead in his apartment late Sunday, a 22 caliber pistol by his side.

In a 300-page report released last week, Nisman had accused Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman of reaching an agreement with Iran to avoid prosecution of eight Iranians, including former senior officials, charged with involvement in the bombing. That deal, Nisman said, would open a lucrative trade in Argentine grains and meat for Iranian oil — a pact that would help Argentina close its $7 billion per year energy deficit.

Kirchner’s government said two men who Nisman believed were deeply involved in the alleged cover-up of the attack had been falsely presented to him as state intelligence agents. She said the deception discredited Nisman's charges against her, and points to a conspiracy to smear her name.

In a Facebook post late Wednesday, Kirchner claimed that Nisman was killed to immerse her government in scandal after he had been “used” to publicly accuse her of involvement in the cover-up.

“I’m convinced that it was not suicide,” Kirchner said.

Kirchner offered no evidence to support her theory, and did not say who she thought was behind Nisman's death.

Aftermath of the bombing of AMIA on July 18, 1994.
Daniel Luna / AFP / Getty Images

The case has shocked Argentinians and seen thousands take to the streets in protest, many of them shouting “Yo soy Nisman,” or “I am Nisman,” in reference to the slogan adopted by French protestors in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Social media networks are ripe with conspiracy theories, many of them pointing at Kirchner and her government.

The 1994 attack on the Buenos Aires headquarters of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, or AMIA, was the deadliest such strike in Argentina's history. Besides the 85 people killed, more than 300 were injured when a van loaded with explosives was detonated in front of the building. Government critics have charged this week that Nisman is the 86th victim of the blast.

Argentine courts have demanded the extradition of eight Iranians, including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, and Iran's former cultural attaché in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani, for the bombing.

Nisman's report called the alleged pact "a criminal plan to erase at a stroke the serious accusations that weigh on the Iranian fugitives ... something unprecedented and never before seen."

His document did not appear to show direct evidence of a deal, but it did include wiretap transcripts of several people discussing such negotiations and saying the deal was approved by "la jefa" — Spanish for a female "chief." Among those involved in the talks, according to Nisman, was Rabbani, the former cultural attaché.

Alberto Nisman
Juan Mabromata / AFP / Getty Images

The Kirchner government had dismissed Nisman's charges as ridiculous, and it has suggested the scandal involves a power struggle at Argentina's intelligence agency.

Antonio Stiusso, a senior Argentine spy, was fired in a December shake-up of the agency, where one of his duties was to help Nisman with the investigation into the 1994 bombing. The government says it was Stiusso who falsely told Nisman that the two men who helped him build his case of a cover-up were state intelligence agents.

The man who on Saturday lent Nisman the gun used to kill him the following day has reportedly said Nisman was warned by Stiusso to take steps to protect himself from his own state-assigned bodyguards.

With the economy shrinking, the case has further weakened Kirchner’s popularity and is expected to help pro-market opposition candidates like Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri and Congressman Sergio Massa in the presidential election in October. Fernandez has been in office for seven years and is barred from running for a third consecutive term.

With wire services

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