Alberto Nisman: Prosecutor who accused Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Iranian bomb cover-up found dead

Body was found hours before he was to testify before parliamentarians

An Argentinian prosecutor who accused the country's president of orchestrating a cover-up of the investigation into a notorious bomb attack on a Jewish community centre has been found dead – hours before he was to testify at a closed-door hearing.

Reports said that Alberto Nisman, 51, who had been examining the 1994 blast that left 85 people dead and over which Iranian officials have accused, was found dead in his apartment in Buenos Aires. A small calibre handgun was found next to his body by security guards, alerted on Sunday afternoon by Mr Nisman’s mother who said he was not answering his phone or else the door of his 13th floor flat.

“Alberto Nisman was found dead on Sunday night in his flat on the 13th floor of the tower Le Parc, in the Buenos Aires district of Puerto Madero,” the Argentinian security ministry said in a statement. “Next to Nisman’s body, a .22-calibre handgun was found, together with a bullet casing.”

 

Reuters said that Mr Nisman claimed last week that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had conducted secret negotiations with Iran through non-diplomatic channels, offering to cover up the involvement of Iranian officials so Argentina could start swapping grain for much-needed oil from Iran. Local media said he had due to take part in a closed-door hearing in parliament on Monday to explain his accusations against Ms Fernández.

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Demonstrations were announced as news of the prosecutors death broke amid speculation that he had been the victim of an assassination.

The 1994 car bomb attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AIMA) building remains an unhealed wound within Argentine society, particularly for its 200,000-strong Jewish population. In 2006, Argentine prosecutors, led by Mr Nisman, formally charged the Iranian authorities of ordering the attack and of directing the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah to carry it out.

 

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President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has denied claims of being involved in a cover-up of the bombing inquiry

 

Iran always denied the allegations. In 2013, Ms Fernández tried to form a “truth commission” with Iran to jointly investigate the attack. She said at the time that the pact would reactivate the inquiry, but Israeli and Jewish groups said the move threatened to derail criminal prosecution of the case. The truth commission pact was later struck down by an Argentinian court.

The judge handling the case of the 1994 bombing criticised Mr Nisman late last week for taking it upon himself to “initiate an investigation without judicial control” and said his evidence was flawed.

Reports said Mr Nisman’s mother found the door to his flat locked from the inside and had to get a locksmith to open it. She found her son’s body on the floor of the bathroom, blocking the entrance, and called the police.

 

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The car bombing of the seven-storey building was the worst of its kind in Argentine history

 

“In the coming days we will determine the cause of death with an autopsy,” prosecutor Viviana Fein told journalists gathered at the scene in the early hours. “I ask for seriousness, I ask for prudence.”

On Monday morning, officials began a post-mortem examination of Mr Nisman’s body. “Everything indicates it was a suicide,“ Secretary of National Security Sergio Berni told local television. ”We have to see if gunpowder is found on his hands.“

Yet politician Patricia Bullrich told television channel TN that members of parliament would meet to discuss the situation. She said that Mr Nisman had received threats since making his claims last week.

“In the coming days we will determine the cause of death with an autopsy,” prosecutor Viviana Fein told journalists gathered at the scene in the early hours. “I ask for seriousness, I ask for prudence.”

On Monday morning, officials began a post-mortem examination of Mr Nisman’s body. “Everything indicates it was a suicide,“ Secretary of National Security Sergio Berni told local television. ”We have to see if gunpowder is found on his hands.“

Yet politician Patricia Bullrich told television channel TN that members of parliament would meet to discuss the situation. She said that Mr Nisman had received threats since making his claims last week.

The Clarin newspaper reported a few days earlier that Mr Nisman had said in an interview: “I could end up dead because of this”.

When Mr Nisman made his claim last week he published a 300-page report alleging that the president and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman had opened a secret back channel to Iranians suspected of involvement in the bombing of the community centre. He said that the scheme was intended to clear the Iranian suspects in order to facilitate a trade deal between Iran and Argentina. The president’s spokesperson denied the claims.

Mr Nisman said he had issued a request that a judge question the president and the foreign minister “for being authors and accomplices of an aggravated cover-up”.

Israel's foreign ministry expressed deep sorrow over Mr Nisman's death, the Associated Press reported. “Nisman, a courageous, venerable jurist who fought intrepidly for justice, acted with determination to expose the identities of the terrorists and their dispatchers,” the ministry said in a statement.

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