4 Feb 2015

Key questions: Argentina’s prosecutor and the president

The case of an Argentine prosecutor’s death and the national spy agency’s links with President Cristina Fernandez unfurls with increasing complexity amid controversy over ties to a 1994 bombing.

What just happened in Argentina?

A political crisis borne of high drama and intrigue – the president has moved to disband the country’s intelligence service, after the mysterious death in January of a federal prosecutor. Alberto Nisman died from a gunshot wound to the head the night before he was due to tell parliament the president herself had helped to engineer the mother of all cover ups. Chief investigator Viviana Feinaâ?? said that a draft request, appearing to be an arrest warrant for the president, was found in the prosecutor’s rubbish bin.

At first, the government told the country Alberto Nisman had committed suicide. When polls suggested no-one believed her, she changed her view, arguing that “dark forces” within the intelligence services may have murdered him – the same “dark forces” that had set her up.

What is the president meant to have done?

The prosecutor announced he was filing criminal charges against President Kirchner four days before he died. He alleged she had conspired with Iran to cover up Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. He maintained that she had agreed to leave any claims to justice behind in favour of promoting trade relations with Tehran. (For trade relations, read Argentinian access to Iranian oil in exchange for grains.)

Critics of the case against her say it relies too heavily on wire-taps, that Argentina isn’t swimming in Iranian oil, and that no-one every requested Interpol drop its warrants for suspects in the bombing.

For her part, President Kirchner calls the claims “absurd”.

Who was Alberto Nisman?

Friends described him as a “bulldog” prosecutor, obsessed by justice; well aware of the risks to his safety, with a cadre of bodyguards he didn’t trust. Shortly before he went public with his dossier that implicates the current government, he wrote to supporters “it is not going to be easy. Completely the opposite. But sooner or later, the truth will triumph.”

Nisman spent the past 17 years investigating the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing. He was put in charge of the investigation by the president’s predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner. In 2006 Nisman filed charges against Iranian officials including its former president, and defence minister, alleging that Iran and Hezbollah through the embassy in Buenos Aires had been involved, supported and executed the bombing. Iran has consistently denied any involvement, and refused any attempts to extradite the five officials Nisman named.

What happens now?

That’s the question on everyone’s lips, as prosecutor Nisman’s murder has divided the country. The Chief of Staff appeared on TV and tore up newspaper front pages reporting Nisman’s dossier and the probe into who was responsible for his death. Jewish survivors of the 1994 bombing prompted to describing Nisman as the 86th victim of that attack.

The investigator probing his death is about to take two weeks’ leave, after she denied, then acknowledged the existence of a draft document prepared in June 2014. It was allegedly found in the garbage in Nisman’s apartment which appears to be a draft request for the president’s arrest. To complicate matters further, the gun that killed him was reported to be a gun he borrowed from a man who worked for him.

So far, no judge has agreed to take on the indictment.