Confronted with a deepening scandal, the president of Argentina abruptly reversed herself on Thursday, saying that the death of the lead prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center was not a suicide as she and other government officials had suggested.
Instead, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suggested that the prosecutor’s death was part of what she hinted was a sinister plot to defame and destroy her.
The president’s change of position added a major new twist to the suspicious death of the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, whose body was found in his luxury apartment in Buenos Aires late Sunday with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.
“As the days go by, instead of knowing more, we know less,” Carlos Pagni, a political commentator, wrote in a column in the newspaper La Nación, in which he pointed to the case’s “tide of unknown quantities.”
Mr. Nisman had long accused Iran of planning and financing the 1994 attack, which left 85 people dead. But this month he intensified his claims, accusing Mrs. Kirchner and top aides of trying to subvert his 10-year investigation into the bombing — allegations that the government has rejected.
Using transcripts of intercepted phone calls, Mr. Nisman asserted that the government had pursued a secret deal with Iran to exchange Iranian oil for Argentine grains — and to shield Iranian officials from charges that they had orchestrated the bombing.
Mr. Nisman had been scheduled to testify to lawmakers about his accusations on Monday. News of his death, just hours before that widely anticipated testimony, stunned Argentina and immediately raised suspicions of a political cover-up to protect the president.
Thousands of Argentines took to the streets after Mr. Nisman’s death was announced, not only to show their anger at the unsolved bombing, which is widely considered a national disgrace, but to demand a full and transparent investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death.
After Mrs. Kirchner’s suggestion that his death appeared to be a suicide, her new explanation on Thursday was contained in a letter posted on her website, saying that Mr. Nisman had been manipulated by others to smear her.
“They used him while he was alive and then they needed him dead,” Mrs. Kirchner wrote in the letter, which she subtitled, in part, “The suicide (that I am convinced) was not suicide.”
The president offered no clear explanation or evidence as to who might have been responsible.
Officials in Mrs. Kirchner’s government have dismissed Mr. Nisman’s assertions about a secret deal with Iran, saying that he had been manipulated by Antonio Stiusso, a former senior intelligence official ousted by the president in December.
Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s foreign minister, said that contrary to Mr. Nisman’s claims, the government had never tried to get Interpol to lift the arrest warrants against Iranian officials wanted in connection with the attack.
Mr. Timerman noted that he had released an email from Ronald Noble, the secretary general of Interpol from 2000 through 2014, agreeing that Mr. Timerman and the Argentine government had been “consistent and unwavering” in arguing that the arrest warrants should remain in place.
“It was not only me, but the head of Interpol that denied the charge,” Mr. Timerman said, referring to Mr. Nisman’s claim that the deal with Iran fell apart because Argentina failed to persuade Interpol to lift the warrants.
In a 289-page criminal complaint written before his death, Mr. Nisman said that Mr. Timerman met with Iran’s foreign minister in Aleppo, Syria, in January 2011. At the meeting, the complaint says, Mr. Timerman told his Iranian counterpart that Argentina no longer wanted to support the bombing investigation, choosing to pursue the trade deal instead.
But Mr. Timerman countered that trade with Iran had already picked up by 2007, well before the secret talks asserted in the complaint, a point supported by data provided by Argentina’s trade chamber.
Investigators looking into Mr. Nisman’s death have not ruled out any possibility. But conflicting news reports about the circumstances that preceded the discovery of his body, slumped in the bathroom of his 13th-floor apartment, have fed suspicions that he may have been killed.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: NY Times | Jonathan Gilbert and Rick Gladstone