New wrinkle in Argentine murder: prosecutor sought to arrest president
The final complaint slain prosecutor Nisman submitted to Argentine authorities called for Kirchner to face questions in court over a 1994 bombing. Now the focus is back on Kirchner after a draft order for her arrest was found in Nisman's apartment.
Buenos Aires, Argentina — Investigators examining the death of a prosecutor who accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of agreeing to shield the alleged masterminds of a 1994 terror bombing said Tuesday they have found a draft document he wrote requesting her arrest.
Chief investigator Viviana Fein said the draft detention request was found in a trash bin of the apartment where Alberto Nisman's body was discovered on Jan. 18. It was not included in a complaint the prosecutor had filed in federal court days earlier.
"To formally go after a sitting president like this, especially somebody like Cristina, is a huge deal," said James Cooper, professor at California Western School of Law and an expert on legal reform in Latin America. "It makes you wonder if Fein is getting pressure not to press the case further?"
Nisman was found dead of a gunshot wound in his bathroom hours before he was to appear in Congress to detail his allegations that Fernandez agreed to protect those responsible for the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires' largest Jewish community center. The attack, which killed 85 people, remains unsolved. Fernandez has dismissed the allegations against her.
Fein at first denied the existence of the document requesting the president's arrest after Argentina's Clarin newspaper published an article about it on Sunday. Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich ripped up the article in front of reporters on Monday and said it was a lie produced by the "opposition media."
But Clarin then published a copy of the draft, which was dated from June 2014. It said Nisman also had considered requesting arrest orders against Fernandez's foreign minister, Hector Timerman, and other officials in the government.
Fernandez's government and Clarin often clash, and the Nisman case has reignited the dispute. For years, Fernandez has been trying to break up Grupo Clarin, one of the leading media conglomerates in Latin America, while her government works to build up a large media presence of its own.
On Tuesday, Fein clarified her earlier statement, acknowledging the existence of the draft document and saying she made an error of "terminology and interpretation," and there had been a miscommunication with her office.
"The words I should have used are: 'I know that there was a draft'" of a document, she said. But she said its existence "is not important enough to change the course of the investigation."
The final complaint Nisman submitted to judicial authorities called for Fernandez and Timerman to face questions in court instead.
Why Nisman may have changed tack is unclear, but it brings the focus back to Fernandez, who has tried to distance herself from the case, in part by suggesting rogue elements in intelligence services were behind Nisman's death.
She is currently in China seeking investments, and before she left she submitted a proposal to Congress to reform the Secretary of Intelligence. A Senate committee took up the bill on Tuesday.
Conspiracy theories have swirled around Nisman's death since his body was found. Authorities initially said he likely committed suicide, but his supporters insisted the prosecutor would not have killed himself and even Fernandez has said that, contrary to initial findings, his death could not have been a suicide.
Nisman had spent almost a decade building up a case that Iran was behind the 1994 attack on the Jewish center. Iran's government has repeatedly denied the allegation.
Nisman had feared for his safety and 10 federal police were assigned to protect him. The officers were suspended as part of the investigation but none have been named as suspects.
Nisman alleged that Fernandez agreed to cover up Iran involvement in the bombing in exchange for trade benefits, especially in oil. Fernandez has argued Argentina had nothing to gain from such a deal.