Friday 22 November 2019

Prosecutor death 'self-inflicted'

A prosecutor who had accused Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez of shielding Iranian suspects in the nation's deadliest terror attack died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside his locked apartment, the government said.

Alberto Nisman, who had been investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, was found in the bathroom of his flat late on Sunday, hours before he was to testify in a Congressional hearing about the case.

Investigating prosecutor Viviana Fein said the preliminary post-mortem examination found "no intervention" of others in Mr Nisman's death.

However, Ms Fein said she would not rule out the possibility that Mr Nisman was "induced" to suicide, adding that the gun was not his.

"The firearm belonged to a collaborator of Nisman" who had given it to the prosecutor, Ms Fein told Todo Noticias television channel.

According to the post-mortem, Mr Nisman had a bullet entry-wound on the right side of his head but there was no exit wound.

H is body was found inside the bathroom and blocking the door, and there were no signs of forced entry or robbery in the apartment, Ms Fein said.

The findings left more questions than answers about the death, which came only five days after Mr Nisman accused Ms Fernandez and other officials of reaching a deal with Iran that shielded some officials from possible punishment for the attack.

Mr Nisman was guarded by police because he had received threats. Late on Sunday, agents alerted their superiors that he was not answering phone calls, according to the security ministry.

The authorities called Mr Nisman's mother and when she was not able to open the door because a key was in the lock on the other side, a locksmith was called, the ministry said. A .22 calibre handgun and a shell casing were found next to Mr Nisman's body.

The presidency yesterday ordered the declassification of the names of the agents that Ms Nisman had demanded as part of his probe, apparently an attempt by the administration to show transparency and avoid any accusations of wrongdoing.

In a letter on her official website, Ms Fernandez lamented Mr Nisman's death, saying it generated "stupor and questions".

She initially used the word "suicide" in connection with his death but later put a question mark next to the word.

Congresswoman Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann, interviewed before the preliminary post-mortem finding, said she had planned to pick Mr Nisman up yesterday at his residence and accompany him for his testimony.

"Everybody who had contact with him the last 24 hours says he was confident" about his testimony, she said.

"There is no indication, under any circumstances, that he killed himself."

She said Congress met yesterday afternoon despite Mr Nisman's absence, and many members signed a declaration urging a full investigation into his death and insisting that the investigation continue.

Ms Schmidt-Liermann and others who knew Mr Nisman said he lived under constant threats on his life from Iranian agents and pressure from the Argentine government.

Mr Nisman was appointed 10 years ago by Ms 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.

A small white van with several hundred pounds of explosives detonated in front of the seven-storey 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 Mr 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 scepticism by Jewish leaders who feared it would undermine Mr Nisman's probe.

Last week, Mr 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 Ms 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," Mr Nisman said last week.

Ms Fernandez's administration's popularity has waned amid rising inflation and other economic ills and Mr Nisman's death could further cloud her last year in office.

Within hours of the news of Mr Nisman's death spread, a well-known group called "Indignant Argentines" called for demonstrations in several areas of Buenos Aires.

Under the slogan "I am Nisman," thousands marched chanting "Justice! Justice!" to demand the government clarify what happened to the prosecutor. Some scuffled with police.

PA Media

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