Argentine prosecutor who accused Kirchner found dead
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A special prosecutor who had accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez (Kirchner) of shielding Iranian suspects in the South American country’s worst terrorist attack was found dead with a gunshot wound on Sunday, authorities said.
Alberto Nisman, who was set to testify Monday in a Congressional hearing about the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, was found in the bathroom of his Buenos Aires apartment late Sunday, federal prosecutor Viviana Fein told Telam, Argentina’s official news agency.
“We can confirm that it was a gunshot wound, .22 caliber,” she said, adding that it was too early in the investigation to know what had happened.
Nisman lived in Le Parc tower, a complex of luxury condos in the trendy Puerto Madero neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Reporters and others gathered outside Monday were not allowed to enter, the norm in such exclusive complexes, where many residents come and go via underground parking garages.
Nisman had 10 federal police assigned to his protection, according to a statement from the Health Ministry, which did not provide details on where the officers were posted when Nisman died. Government officials, including Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich, have declined to comment on the investigation.
Nisman was appointed 10 years ago by Fernandez’s late husband, then-President Nestor Kirchner, to revive a floundering investigation into the bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people and injured more than 200.
A small white van with several hundred pounds of explosives detonated in front of the seven-story building, causing it to collapse in the densely populated area of town.
Argentina has one of the largest concentrations of Jews outside of Israel, with estimates ranging around 200,000, mostly in Buenos Aires.
After years of inconclusive investigations and failed trials, an Argentine judge in 2006 accepted Nisman’s request to order the arrest of a former Iranian president, foreign minister and other officials. Interpol later put most of them on its most-wanted list.
But Argentina and Iran reached agreement in 2013 to jointly investigate the attack, a move viewed with skepticism by Jewish leaders who feared it would undermine Nisman’s probe.
Last week, Nisman accused Fernandez and other senior Argentine officials of agreeing not to punish at least two former Iranian officials in the case. He asked a judge to call Fernandez and others, including Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, for questioning.
“The president and her foreign minister took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran’s innocence to sate Argentina’s commercial, political and geopolitical interests,” Nisman said last week.
A federal judge had begun the process of deciding whether to hear the complaint and whether anyone should be summoned for questioning.
Fernandez has yet to comment on the allegations, and by early afternoon Monday had not commented on Nisman’s death. Last week, administration officials have called the prosecutor’s allegations ludicrous.
Fernandez’s administration’s popularity has waned amid rising inflation and other economic ills and Nisman’s death could further cloud her last year in office.
“I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth but I have no doubt that he was killed,” said Estela Damonte, a 47-year-old museum guide, adding that she had seen Nisman on television last week and it was clear that he believed deeply in his case.
“It’s impossible that he killed himself,” she said.
Federico Valdez, who works at an insurance agency, had a different take.
“Everything indicates that he killed himself,” said Valdez, 62. “The bathroom door was locked from the inside, something even confirmed by the prosecutor’s mother.”
Opposition Congresswoman Patricia Bullrich told local news media that Nisman told her he had received threats after denouncing the president.
Late Sunday, federal police agents in charge of Nisman’s protection alerted their superiors that he wasn’t answering phone calls, according to the Health Ministry statement. When he also didn’t answer the door, they decided to alert family members, according to the statement.
When Nisman’s mother wasn’t able to open the door because a key was in the lock on the other side, a locksmith was called to open it, the ministry said. A .22 caliber handgun and a shell casing were found next to Nisman’s body.
Israel’s foreign ministry expressed “deep sorrow” over Nisman’s death.
“Nisman, a courageous, venerable jurist who fought intrepidly for justice, acted with determination to expose the identities of the terrorists and their dispatchers,” a ministry statement said.
Within hours after news of Nisman’s death spread, a well-known group called “Indignant Argentines” called for demonstrations later Monday in several areas of Buenos Aires.
“Nisman died but his denouncement does not,” Sergio Bergman, a prominent rabbi in Buenos Aires, posted on Twitter. “Our sorrow and condemnation will result in more memory, truth and justice!”
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