Dead Men Tell No Tales of Government Cover-Up in Argentina

Police in Argentina surrounded Alberto Nisman's apartment late on Sunday. Hours later, prosecutor Vivian Fein confirmed his death.
Police in Argentina surrounded Alberto Nisman’s apartment late on Sunday. Hours later, prosecutor Vivian Fein confirmed his death. (Todo Noticias)

Español“I could end up dead over this,” said Alberto Nisman only a few days ago. Nisman was the special prosecutor in charge of investigating the 1994 bombing of the headquarters of the Argentinean Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA), a Jewish community center in downtown Buenos Aires. Late on Sunday night, police found Nisman dead in his home.

The fog of war has still not dissipated. The circumstances of his death are unclear. Initial reports cited a suicide, based on the scene left behind in the bathroom of the prosecutor’s luxury apartment in Puerto Madero.

“All of the mafia’s crimes are drawn up as a suicide,” said Deputy Patricia Bullrich, one of the members of Congress who was to hold hearings and assist Nisman in disclosing the full scope and evidence of allegations that reach the highest levels of power in Argentina.

According to Nisman’s investigation, Iran orchestrated the terrorist attack on the AMIA headquarters, and President Cristina Kirchner and other Argentinean officials covered it up. Nisman charged the Kirchner administration with “deciding, discussing, and organizing the impunity of Iranian fugitives in the AMIA case for the purpose of fabricating Iran’s innocence.”

As for why the Argentinean government would engage in a cover-up, the answer may be as much economic as it was political.

Philosopher and writer Gustavo D. Perednik, author of Killing Without a Trace, a fictionalized chronicle of the investigation of the attack, told the PanAm Post that behind the government’s alleged cover-up there is “a combination of Chavismo and economic interests.”

Chavismo because they look at global geopolitics through the anachronistic lens of a ‘confrontation with imperialism.’ Economic interests because Iran is an invaluable customer, and they want to strengthen that relationship,” Perednik said.

In 2013, lack of cooperation from the Iranian officials accused by Nisman as responsible for the 1994 bombing, and growing trade between Iran and Argentina, led President Kirchner to sign off on a memorandum of understanding to create a “Truth Commission” and relaunch diplomatic relations. It’s worth noting that between 2005 and 2011 trade between Iran and Argentina increased by more than 1,000 percent.

In May 2014, an appeals court declared Kirchner’s initiative unconstitutional.

The Intelligence Agency Lead

The serious accusations Nisman introduced last week against the Kirchner administration elicited reactions from both the government and the opposition. Secretary General of the Presidency Aníbal Fernández and the judge in charge of the AMIA bombing case, Canicoba Corral, both linked Nisman’s complaint to Argentina’s intelligence services.

Fernandez said Nisman was “responding to other structures beyond the justice system.”

“It seems that the appointment of Oscar Parrilli to the Intelligence Secretariat (SI) have led people who were part of these structures tangentially, or at least prosecutor Nisman, to attempt desperate measures,” said Fernandez.

Sergio Burstein, a Kirchner supporter and member of a group for victims and relatives of the 1994 attack, further endorsed Fernandez’s theory. “This is a shameful operation by the person who carried out the research Nisman included in his writings: Jaime Stiusso,” he said.

Jaime Stiusso is the alias of Argentina’s former chief of counterintelligence. Until December 2014, when President Kirchner introduced changes in the leadership of the SI, Stiusso was the department’s most powerful agent. Following Oscar Parrilli’s entry, however, the Kirchner administration demanded Stiusso’s resignation, and after 43 years of service, his spy career came to an end.

“I think something happened, [and] somehow Stiusso ended up leading the investigation and not the other way,” said Judge Corral.

The State Intelligence Secretariat (SIDE) — as the SI was known until 2001 — played a key role in sabotaging and diverting the early investigation into the terrorist attack.

Perhaps the most important development was the discovery of a payment of US$400,000 ordered by the judge in charge of the AMIA case at the time, Juan José Galeano, and then head of the SIDE, Hugo Anzorreguy. The money was given to Carlos Telleldín, one of the accused in the bombing, so that he would amend his testimony to implicate Buenos Aires police officers.

Judge Ariel Lijo charged former President Carlos Menem (1989-1999), Anzorreguy, and other government officials for their role in the alleged cover-up. Menem had urged the judge not to pursue an investigation into the “Syrian lead,” one pointing to the involvement of a Syrian-born businessman linked to a member of the Menem family.

According to the Argentinean newspaper Clarín, late former President Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) told Nisman to work alongside Stiusso, when the prosecutor was appointed as lead investigator in 2004. Nisman denied the claim: “Neither Stiusso nor anybody else controlled me. Decisions are my own. A myth has been created around this person.”

Despite the secrecy surrounding the activities of the SI, the death of a spy in July 2014 brought to light an internal struggle within the organization. The death of Pedro Viale (AKA El Lauchón), shot and killed by a group of elite Buenos Aires policemen in an unusual operation, uncovered the fierce internal conflict. Viale was Stiuso’s right-hand man.

Was it Suicide?

Nisman’s corpse is not yet even in the ground, and each passing day will likely bring new evidence to light regarding his death. However, at the risk of venturing into the dangerous realm of conjecture, details released so far suggest a suicide.

The door of his apartment was locked, with the keys on the inside. Police found his body in the bathroom, a bullet casing and 22 caliber handgun by his side. Faced with this evidence, suicide is impossible to dismiss. However, given this scenario, the question still remains: did Nisman commit suicide, or could he have been suicided?

The prosecutor acknowledged several times that he had received threats against his life. His protection was in the hands of the Federal Police, an agency also allegedly involved in the cover-up carried out during the Menem years. It seems in this case, the fox was very much left guarding the henhouse.

Translation by Nelson Albino. Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

Subscribe free to our daily newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special reports delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time