No Agatha Christie mystery or Robert Ludlum thriller could top the bizarre story of what is happening in Argentina right now. Hours before he was to testify at a closed-door hearing of the Argentine congress about his evidence alleging a criminal conspiracy involving President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister, prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead late Sunday inside his locked apartment. Government officials assure everyone that he died from a self-inflicted bullet wound to the head.
Investigating prosecutor Viviana Fein said Monday that an autopsy found “no intervention” of others in Nisman’s death. “According to the autopsy, he fired the .22 caliber” handgun, she said. But she did acknowledge the possibility that Nisman was “induced” to commit suicide, and the gun found next to him was not his.
The prosecutor assured reporters that Nisman had ten federal police agents assigned to him, including agents posted at the entrance to his apartment building. Government officials assure skeptics that the agents would have seen anyone coming or going.
But doubts remain.
Congresswoman Cornelia Schmidt-Liermann, a friend of Nisman’s who planned to pick him up on Monday and bring him to Congress for his testimony told the Associated Press, “Everybody who had contact with him the last 24 hours says he was confident” about his testimony. “There is no indication, under any circumstances, that he killed himself.” She said her colleagues in congress have signed a declaration urging a full investigation into his death and the debriefing of his deputies.
Nisman was investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead. The Iranian government has long been suspected of having a role in the terrorist attack, and Nisman was able in 2006 to secure Interpol arrest notices against former Iranian intelligence head Ali Fallahija and four other Iranians. Last week, Nisman filed a 300-page criminal complaint against President Kirchner and Jacabo Timerman, her foreign minister, accusing them of setting up a “secret pact” that would “protect the Iranian fugitives” in exchange for oil and economic deals that would bail out Argentina at a time when it is suffering from twin energy and hard-currency crises. Nisman claimed his evidence included intercepted telephone calls between Argentine officials. Nissan also ordered the freezing of assets worth some $23 million belonging to Kirchner, Timmerman, and other officials.
Thousands of Argentinians clogged the streets of Buenos Aires yesterday protesting Nisman’s sudden death and demanding justice. Argentina’s government promises a full investigation, but at a minimum it would appear a special prosecutor is needed. Foreign minister Timmerman was contacted by reporters during a trip to New York yesterday. “What can I say?” he told reporters. “I’m simply saddened by the death of a person I knew and I hope that the cause of the death can be quickly determined.”
But an investigation isn’t needed for Argentines to realize that something is deeply wrong with Kirchner’s increasingly erratic and authoritarian government. She is term-limited but her populist Peronist party will have to win presidential elections later this year to remain in power. Here’s hoping that Alberto Nisman’s death at least prompts Argentina’s citizenry to realize how important a change of leaders is for their country’s future.