Mystery deepens in Argentina; president 'convinced' prosecutor didn't kill self

Mystery deepens in Argentina; president 'convinced' prosecutor didn't kill self
Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gives a speech a year ago during an event in Buenos Aires. The president wrote a letter Thursday saying she doesn't believe Argentinian prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman committed suicide. (Victor R. Caivano, Associated Press)

The mystery surrounding the death of an Argentine special prosecutor deepened Thursday when President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner declared the investigator's death "was not a suicide.''

Alberto Nisman's body was found Sunday in his Buenos Aires apartment, a single gunshot wound to the head, days after he issued a report alleging that Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and others in her government made an illegal deal in 2013 with Iranian officials absolving of them of blame in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.


The bombing killed 85 people and deeply traumatized Argentina's large Jewish community.

Initial results from an autopsy released Monday indicated that Nisman, 51, committed suicide by shooting himself in the temple. A .22-caliber firearm was found nearby. Prosecutor Viviana Fein told reporters there was no apparent involvement of another person in Nisman's death.

But in a lengthy open letter posted Thursday on her website [link in Spanish], Fernandez said the accusations published by Nisman in a 300-page report were false and that the prosecutor was manipulated into making the accusations by two persons posing as intelligence agents. Those same persons may also be responsible for Nisman's death, she indicated.

"The suicide (I am convinced) was not a suicide," President Fernandez wrote. She went on to say: "Today I have no proof, but neither do I have any doubts." She added that the phony intelligence agents wanted to "use Nisman alive and now they want to use him dead" in a campaign to discredit her government.

She did not name those responsible and called Nisman's death a tragedy. Demonstrations have been held in Buenos Aires by protesters complaining about the pace of the investigation into the bombing of the Jewish community center, with some blaming Fernandez for Nisman's death.

Nisman was put in charge of the bombing investigation in 2004 by the administration of Fernandez's late husband, then-President Nestor Kirchner. He concluded that the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah had orchestrated the attack with funds and logistical help from Iranian officials, some of whom were then stationed at the country's Buenos Aires embassy. Argentina issued arrest warrants for nine Iranian suspects in the bombing in 2006, but none has been arrested and tried.

Last week, Nisman claimed that Fernandez agreed to a "memo of understanding" with Iranian officials to clear them of responsibility for the bombing. He said the deal may have been made in exchange for favorable trade deals, including an exchange of Argentine grain for Iranian oil.

He had been scheduled to present his findings to Argentina's Congress on Monday.

In her open letter, Fernandez denied any special deals with Iran and rebutted several of Nisman's accusations. Among them was the charge that she had requested the withdrawal of Interpol "red notices" for the arrest of Iranian suspects in the 1994 bombing. She said Interpol director Ronald Noble had denied Nisman's claim.

She also asserted that the gun used in the shooting was not Nisman's, and questioned why he would have borrowed a gun to shoot himself when he owned two registered firearms. And she asked why he would commit suicide the day before he was scheduled to present evidence backing the charges, including wiretaps of Iranian officials.

She theorized that Nisman may have hastily cut short a vacation last week and returned to Argentina to issue his "accusation of the century" after the alleged imposters persuaded him that he would make maximum impact after the slaying earlier this month of Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris by Islamist radicals.

Kraul is a special correspondent