Argentina has entered 2020 by looking back to the past. A host of developments over the past few days have restored Alberto Nisman, the late AMIA special prosecutor whose death divides the nation, back to the headlines.
Almost five years on, debate over the death of Nisman – the special prosecutor who led the investigation into Argentina’s deadliest-ever terrorist attack – and whether he was murdered or took his own life still rages on.
Just this week, prompted by the release of a new Netflix documentary probing the case, Alberto Fernández said he doubts that Nisman – who died two days after publicly accusing former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of helping cover up the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre – committed suicide.
However, the president also insisted “there isn’t a shred of proof” that Nisman was murdered, as his family insists.
Nisman was appointed special prosecutor into the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) headquarters, which left 85 dead and 300 wounded. But in 2015, his lifeless body was found in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head, delivered at close range from a .22-calibre handgun found at his side.
“I doubt that someone who was going through a euphoricmoment could commit suicide, I don’t know that. I’m allowing myself to doubt it,” Fernández, whose vice-president is Fernández de Kirchner, told Radio 10 this week.
Fernández, a criminal law professor, told Radio 10 that the cover-up case against Fernández de Kirchner was “absurd.” In the Nisman case, he said “the only person harmed by the crime was Cristina.”
Nisman had been due to outline his case against Fernández de Kirchner and her administration before Congress just two days after his death. He had accused Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, her late foreign minister Héctor Timerman, a lawmaker and four others of conspiring to lift Interpol’s red alerts against a handful of prominent Iranians accused of involvement in the 1994 bombing. According to the late prosecutor, Fernández de Kirchner’s government may have negotiated impunity for the suspects with Tehran in exchange for resuming trade relations.
Nisman’s accusation was twice dismissed before Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio took up the case in 2016, after Fernández de Kirchner had been replaced by Mauricio Macri as president.
This New Year’s Day – as many were on January 18, 2015 – many Argentines were glued to their screens. This time, they were watching the new six-part Netflix TV series that has reignited the debate: Nisman: El fiscal, la presidenta y el espía (“Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy”).
The mystery is gaining renewed global attention too – the streaming service has a presence in more than 190 countries, with 158 million paid memberships.
Over six, hour-long chapters with dozens of interviews and testimonies from politicians, researchers, spies, FBI and CIA agents and unpublished images, British director Justin Webster seeks to shed light on the case through his new documentary.
The series quickly became the most commented upon topic on social media in Argentina and the president himself spoke to the media to address his statements in the documentary.
In an interview with The Associated Press Thursday in Barcelona, where he is based, Webster said he saw nothing strange in Alberto Fernández changing his opinion over the years. “It is completely natural for people to change their minds” as they get to know more about a case.
“When I interviewed him, he had no idea that he was going to be president. He was, as in the documentary, quite critical of Cristina [Fernández de] Kirchner. When I say c r it ic a l I m e a n , I don’t mean he was against her and he was able to say what was good about her and what was bad about her, for instance,” Webster said.
The spy referred to in the documentary’s title is Antonio ‘Jaime’ Stiuso, the former counterintelligence chief signalled by Fernández de Kirchner as the man behind Nisman’s accusations, as well as being behind his death as a revenge for having displaced him from office.
Describing both Stiuso and Fernández de Kirchner as “Shakespearean characters,” Webster described the ex-spy as an “absolutely fascinating” man who was responsible for investigating the AMIA attack. He said that based on his close ties with the US and Israeli intelligence service he provided evidence that alleged Iran was the intellectual author of the attack and the Islamic group Hezbollah the executor. Iran has denied involvement.
Argentina’s judicial system initially described Nisman’s death as doubtful. But in 2017, when the probe moved to the federal system, investigators concluded it was a homicide linked to the investigation against Fernández de Kirchner’s gover n ment (20 07-2015 ). Another judge continued the investigation of Nisman and formally accused Fernández de Kirchner, Timerman (who died in 2018) and other former officials of participating in an alleged plot to cover up Iranian involvement in the attack. The case is still pending.
“I think to the attentive viewer who watches all six episodes, then it does bring quite a lot of clarity to the big questions around the Nisman case, around AMIA and around the memorandum case,” said Webster.