The Nisman Case: Deflating Rapidly

From day one, the death of Alberto Nisman –the prosecutor who had accused Argentina’s president Cristina Kirchner of orchestrating a cover-up in the investigation of Iran over the 1994 bombing of AMIA, the main Jewish community center of Argentina, was frantically exploited for political purposes. Nisman was turned into a hero, while the Argentine government appeared as murderous. The peak of this political use was the massive “silent” demonstration held in Buenos Aires on 18 February, organized by five federal prosecutors, with the alleged purpose of paying homage to their dead colleague. The appeal was presented as an opportunity to defend the Republic in danger, which gave the demonstration an obviously anti-government tone. In fact, most of the leaders of the opposition invited the people to march and joined the big crowd themselves. According to the city police of Buenos Aires (created and controlled by the mayor Mauricio Macri, who has good chances to become the next president), over 400.000 people marched, a number that was reproduced by local and international newspapers. More reliable reports, however, counted between 70.000 and 90.000 people, still a very large crowd for Argentinean standards, but not exceptionally big.

Before and after this demonstration, the toxic manipulation of the information continued. As the investigation over the circumstances of Nisman’s death continue –all the evidence produced so far point to a case of suicide–, the media indulged in all sorts of speculations. Clarín, the most important national newspaper, was particularly rich in weird reports and fake news. When Viviana Fein, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, declared that she had concluded that “no Third Party” was in the scene of Nisman’s death, the newspaper informed the readers that that statement could be interpreted as a hint pointing to murder, as it was a recognition that a “second party” was perhaps involved–a most hilarious abuse of the Spanish language. Clarín also set to discredit Fein’s work in all possible forms. They published an interview to one of the random witnesses summoned on the spot immediately after Fein arrived to the prosecutor’s apartment (In Argentinean legal codes, such witnesses are required to attest the basic facts of a crime scene while the experts are working). According to Clarín, the witness declared that the whole place was a mess, that dozens of people were there in the apartment, that they were using Nisman’s cell phone, laughing, eating pastries on his table and writing notes on his personal papers. She also said that she had seen Fein with a plastic bag containing five bullet cases, which of course implies that Fein was lying and that it could not have been a case of suicide. As other newspapers reported, the witness did not confirm any of these allegationswhen she was summoned by the Court. But Clarín nevertheless informed that she did.

The actual killing hand was also a matter of wild speculations (among those who claim Nisman was murdered, of course). Everybody seems to have their own “reliable intelligence source” to quote. Eduardo van Der Kooy –one of Clarín’s general editors– argued that it was the work of a “Venezuelan-Iranian commando (trained by the Cubans)” (sic), a fantastic allegation without a single piece of evidence to prove it. Other “specialists” quoted in the press claimed that Nisman was killed by a local intelligence agent trained by the Mossad, or simply by “Islamic fundamentalists”. It goes without saying that, in any case, they were working for the Argentinean government (if not for Cristina Kirchner herself, at least for some other official).

Nisman’s death comes handy not only for domestic political fights, but also for international disputes. In the US, the Republicans have been consistently using it to attack Obama over his Iran policies. For other reasons, even Paul Singer and the vulture funds that are currently trying to get money out of Argentina have established an “Alberto Nisman Award for Courage” and run a website on his name aimed at discrediting Cristina Kirchner.

Nisman’s Accusation: Dismissed

Meanwhile, Nisman’s original accusation against the government has now collapsed. As I anticipated in my previous column, his report was of no legal substance. After Nisman died, his denunciation ended up in hands of another prosecutor with well-known anti-Kirchner feelings, who decided to promote the case. But Daniel Rafecas, the well-reputed judge in charge of analyzing it, dismissed it completely for being baseless. Not happy with this decision the prosecutor appealed, but the Appeals Court also ruled that there was no case at all. Moreover, the judges pointed out that the famous telephone hearings –the one and only proof that Nisman had– were banal and, if anything, provided evidence that the government was NOT part of the pro-Iranian plan. In a puzzling revelation, Rafecas also presented another document previously unknown, written and signed by Nisman not long before he died, in which he actually praised Cristina Kirchner for her relentless commitment to finding the truth in the AMIA case. This document seems to strengthen the government’s allegation that Nisman was somehow pushed to present his denunciation for unknown reasons.

The prosecutor has now filed another appeal before the same Appeals Court that has already rejected it, but there is no reason to think that the decision will be different this time. From the legal point of view, Nisman’s denunciation seems to be dead. However, the anti-Kirchner media will keep it going as much as possible. As the inconsistencies of the report came to light (check the facts in my previous column), other voices tried to supplement it with “new angles”. One politician of the opposition proposed the idea that the rationale behind the agreement with Iran was not to get oil and sell grains –reasons provided by Nisman but obviously absurd, as Argentina does not even need oil and sells all of its grains to other countries without problems– but to sell Iran Argentina’s nuclear know-how, through Venezuela. This was the “secret plan” that Nisman did not fully understand. Incidentally, Nisman’s telephone hearings say nothing about it and the evidences to support this speculation are non-existent (the only “evidence” that the author of this theory could present was earlier speculations of a anti-Venezuela US Republican commentator). Yet, Claríndecided to endorsethis theory. The newspaper eventually found the way to make it more appealing by adding more spectacular details, provided by some unidentified “ex-Chavistas” interviewed in the Brazilian magazine Veja. According to these informers, Chavez mediated between Argentina and Iran for a secret agreement. Argentina would leave Iran off the hook in the AMIA case and, in exchange for that, it would sell Iran the nuclear know-how to build its bomb, thus helping the Iranians to overcame the West´s embargo. That was the deal. But the unidentified interviewees added more juicy details. Iran also gave money for Cristina Kirchner herself. In addition to his valuable services, Chavez also sent planes with cocaine for the vicious Iranians. But here comes the best part of Veja’s interview: when she was not helping Chavez sell nuclear secrets and cocaine, Argentina’s ambassador in Venezuela at that time, the sixty-year-old Nilda Garré, was part of rather noisy sexual encounters with him (“of the Fifty Shades of Grey type”, they added). The seriousness of this kind of journalism deserves no further comments and has been easily demolished by an Argentinean journalist by simply pointing out the inconsistencies of the dates it provides. Unfortunately, international media such as the Wall Street Journal took this testimony for good (the American newspaper spared the readers the details of the sexual preferences of Chavez and Garré, though). It does not mind the reliability of the information, provided it hurts countries we don’t like.

Alberto Nisman: Recent Revelations

As I explained in my previous Telesur column, Nisman was far from being a justice hero. He was the prosecutor in charge of the investigation of AMIA’s bombing for many years and his role there was indeed obscure. He was personally involved in maneuvers to leave the Syrian lead in oblivion, as the US and Israel wanted, so as to blame Iran as quickly as possible. He also tried to close the local chapter of the investigation by blaming innocent people. Although most people in Argentina had not heard of Nisman until he died, those who were well informed of the AMIA case –including the associations that represent the families of the victims– were long time aware of who Nisman really was.

As the case unravels, we are beginning to learn more details of his life and work. As a prosecutor, for the past ten years he was given the privilege of working in the AMIA case alone, together with special funds and other benefits. After he died, it emerged that he was handling those funds in a rather strange way. He had hired at least three people who hardly ever attended his office; their salaries were particularly high for Argentinean standards. One of them was apparently the last person who saw Nisman alive, Diego Lagomarsino, who lent the pistol with which he killed himself or was killed. In a rather unexpected move, Nisman’s ex-wife –the main plaintiff in the case– is now pointing to Lagomarsino as the killer. Quite disappointingly for the anti-government media, she suggested that the reason of the alleged killing was of a financial kind. It is not clear what she means by that, but it sounds like a private business or, at least, one with no relation to high politics and international conspiracies. As it emerged in the past few days, Lagomarsino and Nisman’s mother shared an undeclared bank account in the US. In his defense, Lagomarsino argued that the account was in reality Nisman’s, and that he was only lending his name, as the prosecutor was a “politically exposed person”. He added that each month he was forced to give Nisman half of the money he made as an employee of his office. In addition to this, Nisman also had three undeclared safe deposit boxes in Argentinean financial institutions, which were emptied by his mother immediately after he died. She claimed that she only found there his son’s diploma of lawyer, but it appears that employees of the banks remember her coming out with large bags.

The Nisman case will surely provide more unexpected news: it is worth noting that the prosecutor in charge of the investigation still could not examine Nisman’s cell phone and PCs, as his ex-wife opposes for reasons of “privacy”. Absurd as it may sound, more than two months after a death that shook Argentina, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation still does not even know who texted him, which computer file was he working on, or the emails he sent and received in his last hours. Unfortunately, it is likely that international audiences will learn nothing about all this, as the case has already lost interest. The story of the heroic prosecutor killed by an evil state will probably remain in their memory.

As for Argentina, after the first shock, the case seems to have lost the potential to condition political behaviors. There seems to be a backlash from the people, fed up of media intoxication. One month after Nisman’s death, the “silent” march gathered 90.000 people. But the meeting called in the second month was only attended by a hundred people. To the dismay of the media, a recent pollshows that Argentineans do not believe in anyone in this case, neither in the government, nor in the opposition. Most people feel manipulated and think that we will never know the truth. But more importantly, people responded that the Nisman affair will not change their vote in the coming presidential election: those who were against the government before the prosecutor’s death will vote for the opposition, while those who were planning to vote Kirchnerist candidates, will do it anyway.

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