BUENOS AIRES – The Argentine government cleared the way on Thursday for a former senior intelligence officer to answer questions in the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found fatally shot days after leveling accusations against President Cristina Fernandez.
The head of the investigation into what has been classified as a “suspicious death,” Viviana Fein, had sent the subpoena for Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso to his former agency, SIDE.
Oscar Parrilli, SIDE’s director, said he informed Fein that Stiuso no longer works for the agency and that Fernandez authorized the former spy to share with Fein any classified information relevant to Nisman’s Jan. 18 death.
Nisman died hours before he was due to brief Congress about his accusation that Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and five other people tried to conceal the involvement of Iran in a deadly 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish organization in Buenos Aires.
Stiuso, who joined the intelligence service in 1972 and was part of the machinery of repression during the 1976-1983 military regime, collaborated with Nisman on the investigation of the car-bomb attack that left 85 dead at the offices of the Jewish organization AMIA.
Fein subpoenaed Stiuso after a review of telephone records indicated that in the days before his death, Nisman received a call from a cellphone registered to SIDE’s former chief of operations.
“Stiuso had a fleet of phones in his name and it is possible that someone used some of those numbers to talk to Nisman,” the ex-spy’s attorney, Santiago Blanco Bermudez, told Argentine radio on Thursday.
The 61-year-old Stiuso, also known as “Jaime Stiles,” managed to survive the fall of the military junta and rose through the ranks of SIDE under successive democratic governments.
Argentine observers have likened Stiuso to FBI founder and long-time boss J. Edgar Hoover, who used his position to amass compromising information about U.S. politicians and other prominent figures.
Before his firing late last year, Stiuso was also reputed to have forged strong ties with foreign intelligence agencies such as the CIA and Israel’s Mossad.
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.
Fein took statements Thursday from Nisman’s assistants in the AMIA investigation and is scheduled to hear from opposition lawmaker Laura Alonso, who exchanged phone messages with the late prosecutor a few days before his death.
Meanwhile, investigators acting on Fein’s orders opened a safe-deposit box Nisman kept at Banco Ciudad, finding nothing inside.
The bank records show that Nisman’s mother, who is also on the account, signed out the box late last month, after her son’s death.
Nisman, 51, 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.
The prosecutor, 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, Fein said last week.
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 Stiuso.
Nisman alleged that following the signing of the memorandum with Iran, Timerman tried to get Interpol to rescind the Red Notices the international police agency had issued for the arrest of the Iranians accused in the AMIA bombing.
But the same day as the prosecutor’s death, former Interpol director Ronald Noble said no member of the Argentine government ever tried to revoke the Red Notices.
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 the accusation relies heavily on information provided by the CIA and Mossad.
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.