National Beat Reporter
Taking a rare look at international news, Argentina made headlines around the world when the mysterious death of a prosecutor rocked the country and sparked major protests.
It’s like something out of House of Cards; the story involves a possible murder, an alleged government cover up, a terrorist attack, a rogue spy, and a connection to the Middle East. It’s an unsolved mystery that has shaken up a politically-divided Argentina and sparked numerous conspiracy theories. It all started with the worst terrorist attack in Argentina’s history.
In 1994, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires was bombed, leaving 85 people dead. 20 years later, and nobody has been charged for the attack. In 2005, Argentine lawyer Alberto Nisman was assigned as the chief prosecutor in the case of the terrorist attack. He had accused the Shiite militant group Hezbollah of orchestrating the attack under the direction of Iran.
Nisman was found dead in his luxury apartment in Buenos Aires on Jan. 19, 2015. He was found with a gunshot wound in the head, the gun next to his body, the doors locked from the inside, and with no suicide note to be found.
Several weeks before his death, Nisman had accused the Kirchner government of attempting to make a secret deal with Iran.
Nisman’s death came one day before he was scheduled to present evidence to the Argentine Congress implicating the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and members of her government of trying to cover up an alleged deal with Iran surrounding their involvement in the 1994 attacks. Several weeks before his death, Nisman had accused the Kirchner government of attempting to make a secret deal with Iran: Argentina would not bring charges against Iranian agents accused of being responsible for the 1994 attack, and the Argentine government would give Iran grain in exchange for oil exports to help stem Argentina’s energy crisis. The deal never came into fruition and the Argentine government continues to deny these allegations.
The details surrounding Nisman’s death have casted doubt over whether he committed suicide or if he was murdered. President Kirchner announced on Jan. 22 that she believed Nisman’s death was not a suicide, and that he was being manipulated by a rogue intelligence agent that her government had ousted in December. Kirchner provided no evidence to back up these claims.
Nisman’s death is still under investigation and has not been ruled a homicide.
THE DETAILS SURROUNDING NISMAN’S DEATH HAVE CASTED DOUBT OVER WHETHER HE COMMITTED SUICIDE OR IF HE WAS MURDERED.
Nisman had filed a 289-page criminal complaint against the Kirchner government, accusing them of the attempted cover up. The complaint included intercepted phone transcripts of conversations between representatives of the Iranian and Argentine governments, pointing to a pattern of negotiations in which Argentina would have received oil in exchange for shielding Iranian officials from charges that they orchestrated the 1994 attacks. The transcripts were made public by a judge the day after Nisman was found dead.
The phone calls were likely intercepted by the Argentine intelligence agency, the Secretariat of Intelligence (SI). President Kirchner claims that Nisman was being fed information by Antonio Stiusso, a former SI agent fired by the Kirchner government in December, in an attempt to discredit and destabilize her government. Stiusso has been called to testify before Congress, but prosecutors have had trouble locating him.
“They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead,” wrote Kirchner in a letter. She claims Nisman could only have acquired the phone transcripts from someone within the agency. The transcripts form the basis of the report he would have presented to Congress the day after his death.
Kirchner has accused SI of having too much power and that they “have not served the interests of the country.” Currently, the agency has sole domestic power to perform wiretaps. Kirchner wants this power to be reformed, and has taken steps to do so by sending a bill to Congress that would disband the agency and replace it with a new federal agency.
More twists in the case of Nisman’s death continued well into the following week. Viviana Fein, the lead prosecutor investigating Nisman’s death, said that a 26-page document seeking the arrest of President Kirchner and her foreign minister Héctor Timerman was found in the garbage in Nisman’s apartment. The draft was dated from June 2014, which means Nisman had been working on the allegations against Kirchner and her government for months before going public with them in January. Kirchner would have had immunity from arrest by virtue of being President. If the request for Kirchner’s arrest were to move forward, and if a judge were to actually issue an arrest warrant, Congress would have to vote to temporarily lift the President’s immunity before answering to any charges.
The demand for transparency comes as more and more Argentinians are losing faith in the government and its institutions.
The news of Nisman’s death, his accusations against the government, and the involvement of the President has sparked thousands of Argentinians to take to the streets in protest. Protestors have been outraged by the unsolved bombing, intensified even more by Nisman’s death, and have called for a fully transparent investigation into both cases. The demand for transparency comes as more and more Argentinians are losing faith in the government and its institutions.
2015 is an election year for Argentina. President Kirchner is ending her second and final term this year and is ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits. Kirchner was preceded by her late husband Néstor Kirchner, who was in power from 2003 to 2007, meaning the leftist Kirchners have been in power for the past 12 years.
Nisman’s death has essentially been used as a political pawn by many in the political establishment. Trying to secure her political legacy, Kirchner and her government have blamed forces allied to the opposition for Nisman’s death, while the opposition blames the Kirchner government for being unable to control its intelligence agency, some even suggesting that the Kirchner government itself was behind Nisman’s death.
As both sides try to shift the debate in preparation for what is sure to be a contentious election, no actual proof has surfaced in the case of Nisman’s death. The lack of proof has led to rampant speculation over Nisman’s death and the public has grown increasingly disillusioned towards the government.
Nisman’s death and the 1994 bombings still remain unresolved.