BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine Cabinet chief on Monday ripped up the front page of Clarin newspaper at his daily session with the media, reacting to the publication of a story claiming that a prosecutor found fatally shot Jan. 18 had sought the arrest of President Cristina Fernandez.
After shredding two pages from Clarin’s Sunday edition, Jorge Capitanich spoke of “a political confrontation hatched from the opposition media.”
“This is how it’s going to be. It will be a very active dynamic in this electoral year,” the Cabinet chief said, alluding to the October 2015 election to choose a successor to the term-limited Fernandez.
Clarin, Argentina’s largest-circulation daily, reported on a draft document found in the trash at the apartment of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who announced a few days before his death that he planned to seek indictments against Fernandez and other officials for trying to conceal involvement of Iran in a deadly 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish organization in Buenos Aires.
The draft, which had many portions crossed out, requested the arrest of the president in connection with Nisman’s probe of the car-bomb attack that left 85 dead at the offices of the Jewish organization AMIA, according to the newspaper.
Within hours of the publication of the story, the judge overseeing the case, Ariel Lijo, denied Clarin’s account and said the document included “no substantial motion” from Nisman regarding the prospective defendants.
However, the prosecutor investigating the death of Nisman came out on Tuesday and admitted that a draft indictment of the President and Foreign Minister was found.
Nisman, 51, was found fatally shot hours before he was supposed to brief Argentina’s Congress about his accusations against Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and five other people.
The prosecutor died of a single shot to the temple, fired at point-blank range from a .22-caliber pistol that was found under his body in the bathroom of his apartment.
Investigators have designated the case as a “suspicious death.”
Nisman, who had a 10-person police security detail, borrowed the gun from a colleague.
Laboratory analysis determined “categorically” that all of the DNA found on the gun, ammunition cartridge, bullets and shell-casings belonged to Nisman, the prosecutor heading the probe, Viviana Fein, said last Friday.
The charges against Fernandez and Timerman were based on intercepts of telephone conversations about efforts “to erase Iran from the AMIA case,” Nisman’s office said Jan. 14 in a statement.
The government wanted to eliminate any obstacle to forging closer trade and economic ties with Tehran, the prosecutor said.
Timerman – himself a member of Argentina’s Jewish community – reacted angrily to the accusations, labeling Nisman a liar and saying that the prosecutor allowed himself to be unduly influenced by Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso, recently fired as chief of operations for the intelligence service.
On Monday, a lawmaker filed a criminal complaint against Stiuso and four other intelligence officials for illegal enrichment.
The spies used a firm called American Tape and several subsidiaries to launder money, legislator Gustavo Vera said.
With each earning a monthly salary of 15,000 pesos ($1,700), it is “absolutely impossible” that the accused can justify the expansion of American Tape’s declared capital from $690 to $690,000 in the course of 2013, Vera said.
The graft allegations against Stiuso arose from an investigation by Vera’s Alameda Foundation of a human-trafficking racket allegedly run by former spy Raul Martins.
Stiuso joined the intelligence service during the 1976-1983 military regime, but managed to keep his job and rise through the ranks under successive democratic governments.
Fernandez’s late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, originally assigned Stiuso to collaborate with Nisman’s probe of the AMIA attack.
The Fernandez administration’s 2013 signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran to facilitate the investigation led to a breach between the president, on one side, and Nisman and Stiuso on the other.
Many in the Argentine Jewish community believe the AMIA bombing was ordered by Iran and carried out by Tehran’s Hezbollah allies.
Both the Iranian government and the Lebanese militia group deny any involvement and some have pointed out that the accusation relies heavily on information provided by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad spy agency, both with an interest in blackening the reputation of Tehran.
Prosecutors have yet to secure a single conviction in the case.
In September 2004, 22 people accused in the bombing were acquitted after a process plagued with delays, irregularities and tales of witnesses’ being paid for their testimony.
The attack against the AMIA building was the second terrorist strike against Jewish targets in Argentina. In March 1992, a car bomb was detonated in front of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29 people and wounding more than 100 others.
Opinion of Judge Lijo on Prosecutor Nisman 2 February 2015 by Latin American Herald Tribune
Attorney General Nisman Filed AMIA Indictment 16 January 2015 by Latin American Herald Tribune