By Rafael Hoffman
The mysterious murder of Alberto Nisman, Hy”d, the prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of the headquarters of Argentina’s central Jewish communal organization (AMIA), aroused suspicions from the moment it was made public. For an investigator’s body to be found just a week after accusing his country’s then-president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, of conspiracy to shield the perpetrators of a lethal terror attack, on the very night before he was to present his findings to the Argentine Congress, seemed to most observers like more than mere coincidence.
Most initial reports from the government and law enforcement authorities labeled the shooting death, which took place in January 2015, a suicide. While the veracity of this was highly doubted in the public eye, the move largely smothered any possibility of further inquiry into Nisman’s demise as well as investigations and indictments connected to the bombing itself.
Yet for more than a year, the government of President Mauricio Macri, who wrested power from President Kirchner later in 2015, has encouraged authorities to thoroughly investigate Nisman’s death once again, an effort bolstered by the declassification of all documents related to the case.
In the coming weeks — even days — it looks as if the justice long called for by the many who took to the streets following Nisman’s death might be taking shape.
This past September, the country’s Supreme Court ordered prosecutor Eduardo Taiano to take charge of the long-stymied case. The move was made as a team of border police assigned to the matter was nearing completion of a report on events surrounding Nisman’s final day. The police report concluded what most observers had long suspected — that Nisman was, indeed, murdered — a necessary step in reviving investigations. It cites extensive and gruesome evidence from the scene that points to the prosecutor having been killed by two people who drugged him and staged his death in a way to make it look as if he had taken his own life. It also accuses the authorities that conducted the initial investigation of allowing individuals to enter the apartment and contaminate the scene, including erasing much evidence such as phone calls and computer communications that preceded Nisman’s death.
Now, Diego Lagomarsino — who worked closely with Nisman, owned the gun found in the latter’s apartment beside his body, and admittedly was with him on his final night — is set to undergo questioning, a step that many think will lead to his arrest. If this comes to pass, he would be the first to be indicted in Nisman’s death, a move that could begin a new chapter in the investigation of Nisman’s fate as well as in the search for truth in the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) bombing itself, the role played by Iran and its international agents, and the possible role of the Kirchner government in obscuring the 23-year-old case.
“In any other country, I suppose Lagomarsino would have been in jail for over a year already,” Agustín Zbar, president of AMIA, told Hamodia. “There are a lot of people here who believe that he was actually a secret service agent, which would explain quite a lot.”
Lagomarsino was employed by the prosecutor’s office as a technology specialist. Shortly after Nisman’s death, he came forward to authorities to explain the gun’s presence in the apartment. According to him, the prosecutor asked to borrow Lagomarsino’s pistol, as he feared for his daughters’ safety during the investigation.
“Things are starting to move very quickly now, and I am optimistic that there might finally be some light on the case after 23 years of it being stuck,” said Mr. Zbar.
In the summer of 1994, a suicide bomber drove a bomb-laden vehicle into AMIA’s headquarters in Buenos Aires. The attack killed 85 people and injured hundreds more, making it Argentina’s worst terrorist attack. Extensive evidence, most of which is cited in Nisman’s original report, placed blame squarely on Iran, who executed the attack via agents of its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah. A popular theory is that the bombing was retaliation for Argentina’s suspension of an agreement that supplied Iran with materials needed for its ongoing nuclear program, but this has been called into question by many who have studied the topic.
Since then, several agents of Hezbollah and Iran who were implicated in the affair have been placed on Interpol’s (International Criminal Police Organization) most-wanted list. Most prominent among the names that have surfaced is that of former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Although allegedly instrumental in planning the attack, Rafsanjani was actually excluded from the list, as Interpol’s by-laws protect leading officials. No arrests or charges have ever been made in the bombing.
In 2013, the Kirchner government reached a “memorandum of understanding” with the Iranian government to establish a “truth commission” which would ostensibly bring the long-obscured facts of the AMIA bombing to light. The move garnered wide international criticism. An oft-quoted reaction is that of David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, who said that “the idea of establishing a ‘truth’ commission on the AMIA tragedy that involves the Iranian regime would be like asking Nazi Germany to help establish the facts of Kristallnacht.”
“There has been a lot of speculation as to why the government signed the agreement,” said Mr. Zbar. “Chavez [the former leader of Venezuela] had been Iran’s main partner in South America. It looks like de Kirchner thought she could replace him.”
Nisman’s report accused Kirchner and others in her government of striking the deal to purposely obscure Iran’s role in the bombing in exchange for favorable trade agreements that she reached with Tehran on oil and other commodities. It was not the only finger pointing at Kirchner at the time, as the government was embroiled from many sides with accusations of money laundering, corruption and other misdeeds.
By late 2014, Nisman had begun to take an aggressive position in his investigations, speaking frequently to the media and bringing public attention to his findings.
“With the memorandum signed, his [Nisman’s] work would have gone into the garbage,” said Mr. Zbar. “He might have had a political calculation in doing what he did, but not a suspicious one; rather, it was really in his line of duty.”
Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, who has extensively researched and written on the AMIA case, met Nisman in Washington during the latter’s work on the bombing.
“He was the first one to give me a coherent version of the Iranian network that was behind the bombing,” Mr. Humire told Hamodia. “He was trying to take the case to the international level, which is where he understood it belongs.”
In retrospect, said Mr. Humire, events that preceded Nisman’s death seem to have set the stage for a political assassination.
“De Kirchner had gutted the Argentinian intelligence network and replaced it with the military, which we know had ties to Iran,” he said. “Once the intelligence community was no longer there for him, he [Nisman] was basically walking blind.”
According to the current police report, security cameras in Nisman’s luxury apartment building had not been working for several days before his death.
When authorities and Kirchner herself announced that Nisman’s death was a suicide, the facts were immediately questioned, most publicly by his former wife, Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, who asked Congress to refer the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
“We buried him [Nisman] in the Jewish cemetery near the victims of the AMIA bombing, in a very prominent place,” said Mr. Zbar. “We could not say it openly at the time, but this kavod we gave him clearly said that we did not think his death was a suicide … He was very enthusiastic about the investigation and working very hard night after night and was almost ready to present his report to Congress. It doesn’t make too much sense that he would have killed himself at such a time.”
Questions still remain as to where the investigation is headed and how far it will go. Nisman had opened a case of conspiracy against Kirchner herself, which was dismissed by courts on several occasions. This too is now open and many speculate that the former president, now a member of Congress, could be called to testify and possibly be charged.
Mr. Humire said that Lagomarsino’s imminent testimony could prove vital in revealing broader aspects of the case.
“Lagomarsino was tied to a whole network of people in the de Kirchner government; he was always a suspicious character. It’s not clear what his role was, but what is clear is that he was not honest and that he was not working alone,” he said. “But at the end of the day, he’s just a patsy. If he is the start of the case, that’s good, but if it ends with him, it’s not worth much.”
Mr. Humire hopes that the present investigations will shed more light on what he feels is the bigger picture of Iran’s involvement and motivations, not only in the AMIA bombing, but in Nisman’s death. Last year, he authored an extensive report highlighting the fact that Nisman’s death and the subsequent quashing of AMIA bombing investigations came as negotiations of the P-5’s agreement with Iran over its nuclear project were coming to a head. The report cites documents showing that Nisman was in the midst of presenting the U.N. Security Council with his evidence linking Iran to the bombing. Such a move would have significantly reduced the country’s position as a legitimate power and its leverage at the negotiating table.
“De Kirchner was very unpopular at the time; if she wanted to take aim at her enemies, there were a lot of people saying much worse things about her. I definitely think she was part of a cover-up after the fact, but the ones with the greatest ability to pull the trigger and the ones who benefited the most seem to be the Iranians,” he said.