A 400-page report submitted Sept. 22 by Argentine police investigators to that nation’s courts found what many people instinctively knew: that special prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered in January 2015, and that he did not commit suicide the day before he was to present evidence to the Argentine Congress that then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had attempted to cover up Iran’s role in the country’s largest terrorist attack in history.
While the police report lays to rest many questions, important ones remain in the broader case, which is far from closed and which the courts will have to determine.
The report’s findings open the door to address not only who killed Nisman, but at whose behest and why. After all, many observers believe it was not his body that was the target, but the body of evidence he exposed about Iran’s role in terrorism in the Western Hemisphere, and about Kirchner’s alleged attempt to cover up Iran’s part in the July 18, 1994 bombing of the AMIA, a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
The report came as INTERPOL’s General Assembly convened in China. Nisman’s exhaustive investigation found that senior Iranian officials had planned and coordinated the bombing of the AMIA. In 2007, INTERPOL issued red notices – the equivalent of arrest warrants -- for the Iranian officials. Iran has repeatedly but unsuccessfully attempted various schemes to get the red notices lifted. In August of this year, at the request of the Argentine government, sources tell me that INTERPOL extended five notices that were due to expire in late 2017.
Because INTERPOL did not announce it, the extension until 2022 received little attention but is significant. The notices are key to holding accountable those who planned and coordinated the AMIA bombing, which killed 85 Argentinians and injured hundreds more.
In 2015, audio recordings from 2012 surfaced of then-foreign minister Hector Timerman acknowledging that the bomb had been placed by Iran.
Other recent developments provide a backdrop for next steps in the Nisman murder case, the AMIA bombing investigation itself and Nisman’s case alleging the coverup.
During court testimony in August, Roberto Ahuad, Argentina’s ambassador to Syria under Kirchner, revealed that Timerman had made a secret trip to Damascus in 2011 and reportedly met with Ali Akbar Salehi, then Iran’s foreign minister and now head of Iran’s nuclear organization. Timerman denied the meeting took place.
Ahuad testified that Timerman traveled from the military sector of the Damascus airport in a private plane supplied by Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government. The goal, Ahuad believed, was to iron out secret terms of what became the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Iran and Argentina.
Based on thousands of wiretaps and other evidence, Nisman asserted the MOU’s ultimate aim was increased bilateral trade in exchange for immunity for the Iranian red notice holders and others implicated in the attack.
In September, Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio unified two criminal cases: one Nisman filed against Kirchner and 13 others -- days before he was assassinated -- alleging their involvement in a coverup of Iran’s role in the AMIA bombing; and a treason case brought against the former president in 2016 for these activities. Bonadio may call Kirchner to court by the end of this month.
If this happens, it would take place just weeks before Argentina’s general elections on Oct. 22, when the former president is standing for election to the Senate -- some say to seek immunity from prosecution in several cases against her.
Establishing that Nisman was murdered — according to the police report, by two people who drugged and beat him and then tried to make the crime scene look like a suicide — is important.
Why did Kirchner, shortly after Nisman was found dead, rush to announce that his death was a suicide, then announce that it was part of a gay lovers spat, and finally, that it was a murder aimed at framing her? Who had motive and the means to cover up the murder? Did Iran have anything to do with it?
Now that U.S. policy is to no longer ignore Iran’s malign activities in order not to endanger the nuclear deal struck under President Obama, will this new development encourage people with information to come forward? Will Hector Timerman finally come clean? Will Argentina’s flawed justice system get to the bottom of these cases?
Among other unanswered questions are how Argentina’s justice system will address the alleged role of Luis D’Elia, Fernando Esteche, and Jorge Khalil, who, based on audiotapes, were involved in Kirchner’s Iran-Argentina back-channel talks aimed at swapping increased trade for immunity for the Iranian officials. If the evidence points to her complicity, will Kirchner be brought to justice?
And, finally, will Iran — the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism — be held accountable for its apparent role in the murder of 85 Argentinians, not to mention other acts of terrorism around the world?