Eleven days after special prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment, more questions than answers continue to arise in the case, which has widened to implicate a number of Argentine officials and institutions and raised concerns about the power of Argentina’s secret intelligence services.
Nisman was appointed by former Argentina President Néstor Kirchner in 2004 to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA in Spanish) center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people in the country’s worst terrorist attack. Accusations have long pointed at Hezbollah agents, with backing from the Iranian government, as the perpetrators of the attack, but no charges have ever been brought against any foreign individuals.
That seemed set to change earlier this month, when Nisman set off a political storm by announcing he had evidence that Argentine officials, including President Cristina Kirchner (the late Néstor Kirchner’s wife), had conspired to cover up the Iranian government’s involvement in the bombing and ensure that the Iranian agents responsible would not face charges in Argentina. The government immediately denied the allegations and retaliated swiftly, with Argentina’s Foreign Minister calling the accusations “despicable.”
Nisman was scheduled to present his findings in a closed session of Congress on Monday, January 19. But on Sunday, his lifeless body was discovered in the bathroom of his apartment, with a gunshot wound to the head and a pistol lying nearby.
Officials initially treated the case as a “possible suicide,” but that analysis has since been revoked, even by the government itself. In a letter published on January 22, President Kirchner said she was “not convinced” Nisman’s death was a suicide. On January 26, in a nationally televised address during which she appeared in a wheelchair, the president defended her administration and, according to some analysts, attempted to portray herself as the victim, saying Nisman had been killed to “discredit” her.
Spies and death threats
Conspiracy theories about the prosecutor’s ill-timed death have exploded across Argentina in the past week, with many blaming the government. In turn, the Kirchner administration has blamed what it calls “rogue elements” in Argentina’s intelligence service, saying that agents opposed to the government may have assassinated Nisman to cast suspicion on the government. During her January 26 address, Kirchner said she was planning to dissolve the agency and replace it with a new federal structure.
In recent days, another version of the story has emerged, however, with former agency officials insisting that the agents behind the killing were, in fact, staunch government supporters acting “on behalf” of the interest of Kirchner’s Peronist government.
In an article in British newspaper The Telegraph, a former senior intelligence official said the agency had been running its own “parallel” spy agency for some time, tracking Nisman’s movements, even when he was outside the country. According to the official, the agency was taken over by pro-government operatives following the firing of former director John Stiusso in December.
Kirchner fired Stiusso and his assistant for allegedly maintaining a too-close relationship to U.S. and Israeli intelligence services, and has since accused the former director of providing Nisman with “inaccurate” information relevant to his investigation, including recordings of phone conversations between Argentine officials and Iranian agents.
“Cristina does not have to give a specific order,” the official told the Telegraph. “Her people compete to satisfy her perceived wishes.”
Nisman was reportedly not the only one under the agency’s surveillance. The journalist who first broke the story about Nisman’s death, Damián Pachter, fled to Israel on January 25, saying he felt his life was in danger and that he was being followed by an “intelligence agent.”
“Argentina has become a dark place run by a corrupt political system,” Pachter told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
The man behind the gun
Meanwhile, other questions have been raised about Nisman’s aide Diego Lagomarsino, who allegedly lent the prosecutor the gun found in the bathroom. According to Lagomarsino, Nisman asked him for a weapon, saying he feared for his life and those of his daughters because of the investigation, and that he did not trust the police assigned to protect him. The aide, who saw Nisman twice on January 17, the day before his death, has said he “regrets” lending the prosecutor the gun, though he has also insisted Nisman told him he didn’t plan to use the weapon.
Lagomarsino is currently the only person facing charges in the case, for illegally providing someone with a weapon. He is not suspected in Nisman’s death.
And the list of questions goes on: Where were the 12 members of Nisman’s federal protection unit on January 18, and why were none of them at his residence? Why did the prosecutor return early from a trip abroad? Why did the government change its suspicion from a potential suicide to a murder so quickly, and what else do officials know?
Nisman was buried today in a closed ceremony attended by family members and Argentine and foreign officials, including the U.S. ambassador. However, though the man’s body has been laid to rest, it seems clear that the case is far from solved, and questions and accusations will continue to haunt the Argentine government for a long time to come.