Nisman’s Suspicious Death Is Tearing Argentina Apart

By Bianca Fernet, Argentina, Cross posted from The Bubble

Argentina is once again making international headlines, but this time it had nothing to do with vultures or dollars or defaults. Argentines woke up yesterday to the shocking news that Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor who had directly accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of complicity in covering up Iran’s responsibility for the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in 1994, was found dead just hours before he was due to testify in Congress.

Since the news broke, the country has exploded with indignation as protests erupted across Argentina’s cities. Many people in the country believe that Nisman possessed undeniable evidence of Cristina’s participation in protecting the guilty parties in Iran from facing prosecution and responsibility to obtain preferential trading agreements and achieve economic gain at the expense of justice.

Nisman’s death is suspicious, and while details are still emerging, it will likely remain so. He was found dead from a single bullet wound to the head on his bathroom floor, locked inside his upscale apartment in a reasonably-secure building. An autopsy has confirmed that the borrowed .22 caliber pistol found by his side inflicted the kill wound.

This suspected political killing has not swung markets the way it would in other countries, which could cause foreigners looking in to underestimate the importance of this death to Argentina’s future.

World news outlets are accustomed to seeing terrible and even bizarre headlines about Argentina. Crisis, default, comparisons with Venezuela, and even accusations of adopting werewolves – let’s face it, these headlines are attention grabbers. They paint Argentina as a backwards and downward-sliding quagmire where the mysterious death of a judge about to testify against the president isn’t out of place.

This death is out of place and it has ignited a spark within society. This is unprecedented since the return of democracy.

Argentina is a country divided. Depending on which side of the political spectrum people sit, they either love Kirchnerism’s brand of Peronism and view any criticism as a vitriolic attack on the poor, or they hate Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and everything she stands for as responsible for the deepening ruin of the country. This is not a political fabric that can withstand much strain.

The circumstances surrounding the late prosecutor’s death stink of foul play and reek of conspiracy, and it is unlikely much light will be shed on them; rather, the divide between political divisions will rip even deeper.

This spark has ignited the kind of unrest that could tear the country apart and bring Cristina down with it.

The Kirchner administration commands unwavering support from swaths of the population owing to a combination of populist programs, vitriolic speeches, and support for human rights and progressive causes. But the economy has been in real trouble for some time now, and keeping it from ripping at the seams is a delicate and constant balancing act.

Cristina has been battling rampant inflation, parallel currency markets, falling reserves, and increasingly expensive domestic fiscal spending programs. Low commodity prices are not doing her any favors save making imported energy comparatively less expensive, and she has been throwing the kitchen sink at keeping these problems from coming to head before the end of her presidency at the end of 2015. A political scandal that enrages her opposition is not good news.

Opposition took to the streets and to the Plaza de Mayo with pots and pans demanding she be brought to justice for her alleged role in first covering up the identities of the AMIA bombers and now killing Alberto Nisman.

The people of Argentina want justice, and unless a timely investigation reveals a compelling alternative explanation to the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, to many justice must take the form of Cristina facing responsibility. By Bianca Fernet, Argentina, The Bubble.

One of Argentina’s most vibrant and delicious industries is on the verge of ruin. Read…   My Wine! What the Heck Is Going on in the Streets of Mendoza?

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  1. Jim Haygood

    Nice to see the talented Bianca Fernet featured here.

    Once a taxi driver pointed out to me, as we went past it, the infamous Naval Mechanics School in Buenos Aires where torture took place during the years of military dictatorship (1976-1983). ‘That is never going to happen again in Argentina,’ he said with feeling — a sentiment echoed by everyone I met there.

    Both Cristina Kirchner and her husband, the late President Néstor Kirchner, were instrumental in lifting immunity to allow prosecution of crimes committed during El Proceso, as it’s called. As much of a flake as the Widow K. may be in the realm of economics, one does not want to believe that she would resort to (or allow) another descent into dirty war and executive murder.

    But the notion that Nisman offed himself just before wrapping up a 10-year investigation doesn’t stand to reason. And talk about suspicious behavior. Cristina promptly resorted to musing publicly that ‘we can’t know why someone would decide to take their own life.’ It was practically a word-for-word quotation of William J. Clinton, speaking about the death of Vincent Foster, by gunshot wound, in Fort Marcy Park.

    1. Luciano Moffatt

      Jiim, I fully disclosed that I am supporter of Argentinian goverment, not because I am being paid for, but because I live here and I see with my own eyes how much the country has advanced under her and her husband. We believe in politics again!! Something that neither europeans nor americans can do any more. (maybe greeks and spaniards might believe in politcs again soon).
      you said:
      “the notion that Nisman offed himself just before wrapping up a 10-year investigation doesn’t stand to reason”
      Well, if the 10-year investigation was a shame, as the 300 pages presentation against Cristina clearly was (filled with press clippings and telephone hearing of minor actors and without an actual acussation),it clearly stand reason.
      How do you explain the fact that Nisman was found with a gun inside his closed bathroom with his body against the door. As I said, I do not relinquish my critical thinking for my ideology.

      1. Noni Mausa

        Well, if he was found inside a locked, windowless room with the gun to hand, one has to ask “Found by who?” If the “who” is the police, then we need to ask if their testimony is reliable. But this sort of question can always be asked, in any country, and so all testimony remains at least slightly questionable, humans being what we are. So, we don’t know if this was suicide or not.

        More significantly, choosing that moment to suicide seems very unlikely. If the trial was a year away, okay, maybe. But the next day?

        Now, was the living testimony of Nisman a necessity? Could his death stop the inquiry, or at least public interest, in its tracks? Would his death protect the Argentinian government? Or would it, as it is doing, enrage the public and make findings of the the actual inquiry moot?

        Darned if I know.

    1. Luciano Moffatt

      A small caliper like 22 might not leave gun powder in the hands. This is a false negative. Now they are doing more analysis to see if this gun leaves powder or not.

      1. notlurking

        “GSR is the consistency of flour and typically only stays on the hands of a living person for 4–6 hours. Wiping the hands on anything, even putting them in and out of pockets can transfer GSR off the hands. Victims don’t always get GSR on them; even suicide victims can test negative for GSR”.

  2. Kermit

    Guess we’re in phase I: CRISIS CRISIS OMFG CRISIS CRISIS

    The hard part comes later when we try to prove Kirchner’s henchmen did it and not Singer’s. With luck the overthrowing will be all done first.

  3. Luciano Moffatt

    Full Disclosure: I am a full supporter of Cristina and Nestor Kirchner policies and I keep my critical thinking ability alive, something that I do not think many of her detractors can safely claim. I live in Buenos Aires and I have been following very closely all the available information on this case.
    Here are the facts:
    1. In 1992 the Israel Embassy and in 1994 AMIA/DAIA building were bombed. The material authors were not identified.
    2. In 2004 Nestor Kirchner put Fiscal Nisman at the front of the investigation of the AMIA bombing. From the American Embassy at Buenos Aires reports leaked by Wikileaks, we know that Nisman checked every step of his investigation with them and even he was told what to do by the embassy.
    3. The only result of Nisman investigation after 10 years (he had a team of 50 people working form him) was the intenational capture of relevant Iranian figures (even an ex-president). Interpol issued a red alert for those allegedly resposibles of the AMIA bombing based on reports of the Mossad and CIA, without hard evidence. The judge Canicoba Corral have repeatedly ask Nisman to get this hard evidence.
    4. The Iranian cause was stalled because the judge could not get the accused Irians to give their version, a necessary step for argentinian justice system. Then in 2013 Argentina signed a memorandum with Iran that would allow the judge to interrogate the accuesed iranian. This memorandum was initially welcomed by AMIA/DAIA directives, but they swiftly changed their mind after the strong rejection of the Israel authorities.
    5. Nisman was in the same side as the Israelies, he did not want the memorandum.
    6. The memorandum left in place the red alert on INTERPOL.
    7. Now in January 12 2015 fiscal Nisman abruptly ended his vacations leaving alone her daughter at Barajas Airport and presented a 300 pages dossier accusing the Argentinian President of conspiring in covering up Iranian resposibility on the attacks. The meat of the accusation: chancellor Timerman was “trying” to remove the red alert of INTERPOL against the accused Iranians in exchange for an enhanced oil per grain exchange.
    8. Timerman got an email of the former head of INTERPOL confirming what he always claimed, that Argentina wanted the red alerts to remain in place. The head of INTERPOL even said in an interview that Nisman was lying.
    9. Nisman was found dead last Sunday in his bathroom, with a 22 gun. There was a capsule that came out of the gun and an orifice in the side of his head. His dead body was against the door of the bathroom, his appartment in a very secure high class building was closed with the key in. It is very difficult to think of a way for this not to be a suicide. Next monday was scheduled to aswer the questions of the argentinian house representatives of both opposition and goverment.

    1. natalia

      Today we heard that the apartment’s door was not locked. That it is possible to go into his condo from an adjacent condo.
      On his desk there was a note to his maid for things to do on Monday.

      Besides, Nobody who has been working for several years for an investigation would commit suicide the day before the presentation in Congress. Several people were being accused by his presentation. Any of them could have decided to end the life of the prosecutor. Over 80% of Argentines believe this.

      1. PWW

        Makes no sense to bump him off now. Guarantees the public release of the report and whatever findings he already had.

        Sounds like a CIA stunt.

  4. vidimi

    looks like only one of three things could have happened here:
    1-it was a suicide. it may seem unlikely at first, but if the culmination of a decade-long investigation was going to expose fraud or incompetence on the part of the investigator, suicide is not that unthinkable. don’t underestimate the importance of honour in a gaucho culture.

    2-he was murdered by kirchner or by her allies: this theory would be similar to the theory that yanukovich ordered the maidan snipers, meaning that it would offer nothing to win and everything to lose. still, if the results would have to have been earth-shattering for kirchner, maybe being accused of a political assassination would be the lesser of two evils.

    3-he was murdered by kirchner opponents to frame her: to make it look like his murder was a suicide, nisman would have to have been murdered by someone he knew. once inside, the assassin, pulled out the gun, ordered nisman inside the bathroom, fired, left and locked the bathroom from outside. it would have to be the person, or an associate, who instructed nisman to focus his accusations on kirchner in the first place, maybe even promising damning evidence.

    take your pick which one makes the most sense, but unless evidence rules anything out, it seems prudent to keep all possibilities open.

    1. Nolan

      I agree with your point that all options are possible, but this is a little oversimplified.

      The fact is, Nisman’s accusations were weak and more about keeping his investigation alive than any smoking gun set to be revealed to implicate CFK in helping Iran protect the suspects.

      This was as much about recent power struggles in the Argentine intelligence agency SI as it is about the AMIA bombing itself. The SI is its own independent actor, albeit one with political interests across the dysfunctional spectrum of Argentine politics. The CFK administration has been reshuffling the agency, both for its own purposes (Presidential candidate and FpV opponent Massa is connected to the previous higher ups, as is Nisman), and because it’s a corrupt organization with mafia ties.

      If this wasn’t a suicide, Nisman has a lot more enemies than Cristina, including ones who actually would have motivation to kill him. CFK and her staff are tone deaf and hold grudges, but they aren’t stupid, and now Nisman’s accusations only have credibility because of his death. They released his claims right away, good luck finding anything new there.

      Personally, I agree with the opinion of another Bubble writer, Colin Docherty, who is also speculating but with less of an agenda than most of the coverage:

      The American and international medias have done a terrible job covering this as usual, making conclusions about Iranian involvement that even the US state department have disagreed with.

      Interesting to see Bianca Fernet reposted here. I have no doubt Bianca is intelligent and trying to be fair, but from everything I’ve read by her, she has strong liberal biases and has been predicting the worst case scenario for years now for Argentina. Things are messed up in Argentina right now, but this isn’t 2001 or the 70s. I have even less faith in the three Presidential front runners right now than I do in CFK, but I’m not quite convinced complete collapse or a return of the military are around the corner like so many English language pundits do.

    2. Luciano Moffatt

      First, sorry for over-comment, but it is critically important for my country that the truth is out, seriously.
      vidimi, congratulations very well put.

      There is a fourth possibility:
      4. It was an induced suicide. Either pressured by kirchner allies or opponents. It could be well threatened with murdering his daughter or mother.

      In a crime there is always a motive (otherwise it is an accident, a 5th possibility, he was playing with his gun in this bathroom) and there is perpetuation.
      Lets see first the motive. Who benefits with Nisman dead.
      1. Vulture funds.
      From my perspective, they are the main beneficiaries of this thing.

      You see, from long distance the details are blurred and what is perceived is that
      “Argentina is once again making international headlines, but this time it had nothing to do with vultures or dollars or defaults. Argentines woke up yesterday to the shocking news that Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor who had directly accused President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of complicity in covering up Iran’s responsibility for the terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in 1994, was found dead just hours before he was due to testify in Congress.”

      The detail that Cristina was very dedicated to pursue the Iranian clue going to the step of signing a memorandum with Iran that would allow for the prosecution of the Iranians to continue, the detail the what the special prosecutor claim to have happened was no crime (the alleged cover-up did not happen: the red alert of INTERPOL remained) and the detail that it is very difficult to think that it is not a suicide blurs. People in Argentina will eventually get notice of those details, but overseas the image of a prosecutor dead before presenting the proofs will remain. Therefore my argument is the vulture funds are the bigger winners of all this.
      2. The economical opposition. They clearly benefit by Nisman being dead because the fact that the accusation is completely baseless is forgotten and they can suggest that the goverment was behind all this.
      3. Nisman himself. My committing suicide he avoid the shame of being questioned by the house representatives without him having valid arguments.
      4. Argentinian goverment. Argentinian goverment would benefit only if Nisman has some knowledge that he kept for himself. The accusation was already presented and it on the hands of the judge Lijo.
      5. Foreign goverments. Goverments that benefit from a regime change in Arentina (for instance USA) would benefit from a weakened or tarnished goverment.

      So now how would anyone of those actors proceed to commit the crime.
      Vulture funds, foreign goverments and economic opposition would benefit the most by murdering Nisman in a way that could be attributed the most to Cristina Kirchner. Nisman would not care much to whom his death is attributed to, he would find a place where he could do that intimately. Argentinian goverment would do it in a way that it seem an accident that could not be attributed to them.

      So, although it would please the CT (conspiracy theorist) that the CIA-vulture funds-local fachos were behind Nisman death, the fact that it occured in a way that is much like a suicide makes me feel that was the case.

      What I suspect the vulture funds might have a role is in the compilation of the accusation.

      1. Jim Haygood

        So Paul Singer done it?

        Gracias por la risa!

        By the way, what’s the Argentine word for Hasbara?

        1. Luciano Moffatt

          Interesting question, I did not know the world Hasbara, I googled :
          Public diplomacy in Israel (also hasbara) (Hebrew: הַסְבָּרָה‎ hasbará, “explaining”) refers to public relations efforts to disseminate abroad positive information.

          I think we do not have a world specific for public relations abroad. In fact, we do not usually do that. I feel honored.
          You know, Argentina is 12.000 km away from the mass center of the world, so we usually spend our time in domestic fights. My problem is that those fights tend to be very crude in their intellectual level, the opposition is very visceral and basically offend the common sense. So I look for other places, like here nakedcapitalism for more entertaining debates. However, sometimes, when I can both provide relevant information and work as a “Hasbara”, for free of course. Of course I did it when is necessary, I mean on defensive mode.
          What it is very common here is the political battle but we do not have an unifying term. We talk a lot about Militancia, (basically political activism). One thing that happened is that people got interested on politics again here, basically after the 125 (the insurrection of the soy producers against a tax). Cristina Kirchner has a special style that promotes the cultural confrontation. That put some people nervous (there were even signs claiming for her murder), but I think it is very beneficial to have a politically aware population: It opens the hope that the power would be taken away from the “enlighten” corporations. However, we had to descend a lot to start this re-birth, the same happened in almost all South America. I am afraid that Europe and the US have a lot of fat to consume before the mases awake .

          1. Oregoncharles

            Very perceptive last sentence. I, too, am afraid of that – I call it “complacency,” and sheer blind habit.
            However, there is a countervailing effect: people respond more to the degree of change than to their actual conditions. When you start out rich, a fall is felt severely – indeed, Argentina went through this. I think another recession here or in Europe will have drastic effects – indeed, it’s already causing a political reversal in Greece, and probably the Latin countries as well.

            some of the conditions for a reversal here are already in place – for instance, attachment to the “major” parties is falling dramatically. So far, that doesn’t mean good news for alternative parties; it just means embarrassingly low electoral turnouts. But it’s a sign. I hope.

      2. Nolan

        Induced suicide is definitely possible, though I think all suspicions should first be pointed toward internal enemies, most likely in the SI, rather than any foreign states or capitalists, as much as Kirchneristas would like to think otherwise.

        1. Luciano Moffatt

          Well, both hypothesis are complementary. SI working under CIA supervision is a plausible scenario, given CIA trajectory. However Stiusso (fired head of SI) gamble (I am talking not of Nisman death but on Nisman accusation) was too big… I mean Stiusso might had been powerful, but accusing the president without anything elaborate is way too much without some external support.

          1. Nolan

            Well, if anyone has benefitted from this tragedy now it’s Stuisso, much more than the accusations alone would have. It will be interesting to see what him and Massa, who I believe is the political faction most aligned with him (correct me if I’m wrong) do now.

      3. McMike

        If the debt issue is quietly and quickly resolved in the vulture funds favor – or resolved soon after a more friendly regime replaces the soon to be toppled one – youll have your answer

        1. Nolan

          Well, this definitely helps Macri, and Macri is almost certainly going to do whatever it takes to attract American investment if elected.

          1. Fernando

            I think we still need to see what comes out of the AMIA files are open…. it seems the dirt is already reaching that camp too. Something to be expected when one thinks of certain names (“Fino” Palacios to name one).

            1. Nolan

              There’s a lot of dirt to go around…it will be interesting to see how supportive of transparency some of the governments enemies, including Menem and Macri people, will be soon.

      4. Fernando

        As Nolan mentions before if somebody “induced” Nisman to kill himself the main suspects should be the people in the SI (inteligence service, and the ex SIDE people). Nisman talking publicly about the case would have been a big problem for them. And an important point: if there was a cover up of the AMIA case (and I think there was) then some people in the ex SIDE should have been part of it.

  5. ltr

    Depending on which side of the political spectrum people sit, they either love Kirchnerism’s brand of Peronism…

    [ So we understand in a phrase the bias of the writer, but the entire essay shows bias. ]

      1. hunkerdown

        In other words: onside with the empire. I’ll be happy to not see any more of my donations to this site go to her.

  6. drfrank

    There was a cartoon the other day in the local newspaper with the caption: In Argentine politics, if it is shocking, it is fiction and if it is unbelievable it is reality–or something like that. I think there are two important points here: If government officials sacrificed their duty to pursue the perpetrators of the attack on the Jewish Center in exchange for a favourable terms of trade with Iran, including access to cheap oil, that would likely be a violation of the law. That seems to be the nub of Nisman’s case. The other point is one made most clearly by Macri, the Mayor of Buenos Aires and a Presidential Candidate. He bemoaned the apparent involvement of secret services in politics, which is important given Argentina’s history during the military dictatorship of the 70’s. An interesting question is what motivated Nisman to come forth with his accusations now. The answer seems to be recent changes in secret service personnel, changes in the criminal code and in the way prosecutors are selected that bring these things more under the control of the Executive Branch. In the context of multiple ongoing investigations of corruption and illicit enrichment, some believe that all that is an effort on Christina’s behalf to avoid prosecution after her term is over this year. Nisman’s death, however it occurred, will likely put his case on ice for a long time.

    1. Nolan

      You make a good point but are only giving one side of it…Cristina has certainly tried to put her own supporters at the head of SI, both to slow any investigation against her and to hurt the Massa faction, but the people she is replacing were also shamelessly corrupt themselves. Nisman was at the very least a victim of this political power play.

      However Nisman’s case is definitely not on ice now, his death only hurts Cristina. What I’m curious to know is who will benefit from this, as the fight has just gone public, and nobody is clean in Argentine politics.

  7. Yonatan

    There are parallels with the Gareth Williams case. He was a GCHQ employee seconded to MI5 at the time. He was found dead, locked inside a large sportsbag, placed in the bath within his locked apartment, which was in an MI5 safe house. The sportsbag was barely large enough contain a small crouched person. The heating in the apartment was turned up full to accelerate post mortem change from the natural decomposition process. This too was claimed to be suicide.

    Both episodes have the hallmarks of a well planned state security level hit. If that is the case here, the .22 gun is a distraction, not the real cause of death. He would have been killed by some fast acting agent that stops the breathing followed by rapid decomposition of the drug within the body to prevent detection in a subsequent post mortem examination. There are morphine derivatives that exhibit these characteristics.

    As always, cui bono? It is never (or rarely) the obvious candidate.

    1. Yonatan

      Who are the fall guys?

      i) The current Argentine leader is in the cross hairs of the CIA regime changers, so there is a clear motive for the CIA to murder Nisman and to initiate the anti-Christina actions, which may in turn lead to regime change.

      ii) The investigation is about Iran’s supposed involvement in an attack against a Jewish organization in Argentine. If Iran was involved, it could be argued they would have a motive for killing Hisman. However, the evidence is on record and will survive Hisman’s death. That tends to negate the idea of Hisman being killed to stop the investigation. It turns out that Hisman’s ‘evidence’ derives from MEK sources. MEK are a terrorist group operating in Iran, murdering citizens and others, and are supported by the US and Israel. If the trial went ahead and the shaky nature of the evidence was revealed then the case could (should) fall apart. The US is close to coming to a deal with Iran, which the US and Israel hardliners oppose. They would benefit from a suggestion that Iran was behind the killing.

      Thus, the murder is nothing to do with stopping the investigation by Hisman. The intent is to discredit Christina and/or implicate Iran. The US and/or Israel have motive, means and opportunity. Boehner has invited Netanyahu to address Congress. If that goes ahead, Netanyahu will plug the Iranian terror angle for all it is worth with the intent of encouraging US hardliners into taking stronger, even military, action against Iran.

  8. Jay M

    Argentina is similar to Ukraine in participating in various agricultural commodity markets. I doesn’t have the big daddy integration that the Donets has with USSR devolved heavy industry. A side crisis to the water dearth in the Sao Paulo region.

  9. Jonathan Revusky

    What was the alleged motive of the Iranian government in bombing a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires of all places? If the Iranians were framed, what does that suggest about who was really behind this?

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