BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A judge in Argentina has reopened an investigation into the alleged role played by former leader Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (2007-2015) in the case of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who died in January of 2015 under suspicious circumstances as he prepared a case that alleged a bombing cover-up by the government.
In the weeks that followed his death, the case that he was preparing was officially presented by his allies and aides before the Congress of Argentina and the legal proceedings were opened against the then-President amid a very tense and politically charged atmosphere.
However, Nisman’s case against Fernández de Kirchner and several members of her government for allegedly covering up the July 1994 bombing of the Jewish center AMIA, filed by prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita after Nisman’s death, was dismissed by judge Daniel Rafecas due to a “lack of evidence” and an appeal of that decision was also denied by federal judges Jorge Ballestero and Eduardo Freiler, putting it to rest.
This week, however, the Federal Chamber of Criminal Cassation (tasked with interpreting whether the law was properly applied by courts), published a ruling of almost 250 pages with the vaguely worded conclusion that “the allegations did not permit the dismissal of the case” and that “evidence was not pondered.” Furthermore, the judicial body, led by judges Mariano Borinsky, Gustavo Hornos and Ana María Figueroa, removed Judge Rafecas from the case.
Nisman was charged with leading the investigation into 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires, which destroyed the building that housed the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA, a Jewish organization and community center) and killed 85 people.
The shocking attacked rocked an already shaken Jewish population in Argentina, the fifth largest in the world, that was still recovering from the March 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 and wounded nearly 250 people.
Eventually, after the legal team and the Supreme Court of Argentina concluded that a group of several Iranian (and two Lebanese) suspects linked to Hezbollah were responsible for the bombing, Nisman turned his attention to the government.
He alleged that the reason Argentina signed the ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ with Iran in 2013, an agreement signed by Buenos Aires and Tehran that would establish a ‘Truth Commission’ tasked with investigating the bombing cooperatively within the legal framework of both countries, was due to financial reasons.
Argentina would “fabricate the innocence” of the suspects, according to Nisman, in order to “satisfy the commercial, political and geopolitical interests of the Republic of Argentina.” Nisman was alluding that in exchange for copious amounts of Iranian oil and gas at favorable prices, Argentina would knowingly clear the Iranian suspects and the Islamic Republic of Iran of any activity in the AMIA bombing.
Among those named in the case were Fernández de Kirchner, Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, Deputy and La Cámpora (Kirchnerist Youth Wing) head Andrés Larroque, former politician Luis Ángel D’Elia, Quebracho (activist organization) head Fernando Estreche and former prosecutor Héctor Luis Yrimia.
What made the case especially intriguing, however, was the timing of its announcement.
Nisman was found dead on January 18, 2015 in his luxury high-rise apartment, just one day before he was to testify against the President and the others he named in the suit.
Subsequent evidence all pointed to suicide as the cause of death as the autopsy revealed no signs of struggle or third-party involvement prior to the close-range gunshot to the right temple from no more than a centimeter away that killed the prosecutor. Furthermore, a .22 caliber pistol with no silencer and a bullet casing were found beside him and it was determined that the same pistol was used in the shooting.
His death was a high-profile one and conspiracy theories were quickly formed as to who was behind his death. The government, the nation’s secretive intelligence agency or even Iranian hitmen were floated as the possible masterminds despite the fact that all evidence pointed to no foul play.
The case moved forward through the prosecutor Pollicita, who deemed it to be substantial in spite of Nisman’s document being labeled as inconsistent, lacking evidence and relying too heavily on newspaper clippings by neutral observers and even some anti-government figures and critics.
Despite the overwhelming evidence contrary to Nisman’s allegations, including Fernández de Kirchner and Timerman’s personal backgrounds in fighting for human rights (“in an unbreakable pattern,” according to Judge Rafecas) and the fact that none of Nisman’s allegations could be documented or proved in any way, Nisman was turned into a hero by many of those opposed to the then-government in Argentina.
Posthumous revelations showed that Nisman frequently took young women on vacations to Spain and Miami using public funds and had secret bank accounts in New York City. This meant that the man who accused the Fernández de Kirchner government of using public funds to cover up the alleged crimes through the creation of idle committees (an unfounded accusation) was actually guilty of committing the crime himself.
Still, those revelations did nothing to harm Nisman’s image in the eyes of Fernández de Kirchner’s opponents. Indeed, some of the then-government’s harshest critics, opposition politicians included, used Nisman’s death as a rallying cry against the leadership of Fernández de Kirchner and tied in political issues that had no logical connection with Nisman’s death. This was and still is being done with absolutely no proof that the government (or anyone else, for that matter) was involved in his death.
The politicization of Nisman’s death was clearly visible when a silent march, held on the one-month anniversary of Nisman’s death, was attended (and at times led) by several members of now-President Mauricio Macri’s conservative Republican Proposal (PRO) party, along with other politicians, judges and figures aligned against the government of Fernández de Kirchner. Ironically, after pro-government voices pointed this out, they themselves were accused of politicizing Nisman’s death as elections were held just months later.
Indeed, as soon as Fernández de Kirchner’s successor and ideological opposite, the center-right Mauricio Macri, assumed office in December of 2015, the case was given new light again. Following his very narrow election victory, Macri ordered a review of all the case documents and noted that it was “not over,” despite the fact that there were no new developments in the case.
Fernández de Kirchner’s Foreign Minister Timerman himself pointed out that neither he nor the President would stand to benefit from Nisman’s death, especially given the timing of his death and the blame that would likely be (and was) put on the government.
Timerman, the son of Jewish Ukrainian refugees (one of whom was a famed human rights activist and journalist) and a practicing Jew himself, referenced the timing in an interview with the Washington Post: “In the case that Nisman’s suit summoned us to speak for ourselves and tell the truth, who would think that the President or I would have wanted Nisman to die the day before he was set to present these allegations and his indictment?”
His father, Jacobo Timerman, was one of the nation’s foremost figures on reporting the atrocities committed during the Dirty War (1976-1983) by the nation’s right-wing military junta in which over 30,000 people perished. His work landed him in prison where he was assaulted and tortured before being exiled to Israel. Upon returning from the Middle East, he published several books about his experience and the dictatorship and testified before the historic National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (CONADEP), the first organization created to investigate the crimes of the junta.
The Memorandum of Understanding, as Timerman explained, was intended to find some way to further the case, through the legal framework of both countries as it was going nowhere. By that time, Nisman and Argentina’s Supreme Court had already published a list of the aforementioned Hezbollah-linked suspects and Buenos Aires asked Interpol to issue ‘red alerts’ for all the individuals.
Contrary to Nisman’s accusations, the actions of Fernández de Kirchner and Timerman did not shower Iran with praise for adhering to the legal plan. Instead, they both publicly voiced frustration at the UN General Assembly over how slowly developments with Iran over the case were moving.
Later, Fernández de Kirchner met with AMIA officials and other Argentine Jewish representatives and asked them to find an alternative to the Memorandum of Understanding, which was abrogated in 2014 while she was still in power. Meanwhile, the former head of Interpol, Ronald Noble (2000-2014), said that neither Timerman nor any other Argentine official ever approached him about canceling the Interpol warrants.
Despite the redundancy of the case being reopened, the Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas (DAIA), an umbrella organization of Argentine Jews, welcomed the news.
“It is like a fresh start for us. This is like the day before Nisman’s death, it is a beginning to the investigation that he requested,” said Santiago Kaplun, the Secretary General of DAIA. “It does not matter who the accused are, only the case itself matters.”