The death of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman hours away from testifying before Congress against President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner and a group of her closest collaborators has the entire country playing the role of Olivia Pope in what could very well be one of the best episodes of Scandal. For the past few days, we have all obsessed over a myriad of conspiracy theories that go from moderately plausible to batshit crazy and delusional. We have become experts in forensic examinations, secret service logistics and homicide motives.
Word on the street is extremely divided over the whole issue. Still, most theories don’t necessarily focus on Nisman’s death per se but on whether President Kirchner ordered his assassination or not. While a vast majority considers that it is pretty obvious that Cristina gave the order to kill the prosecutor who was about to accuse her of interfering in the AMIA bombing investigation, others argue that since Nisman had already presented all the evidence in a report, his death could have little impact on how that investigation would unfold.
Whether it’s a result of how suspicious Nisman’s death is or of the fact that media usually directs audiences attention to the most dramatic and visually shocking news (like the mysterious demise of a prosecutor right before ousting a major corruption case), the truth is that all eyes are (perhaps understandably so) focused exclusively on Nisman’s death, rather than on the actual investigation he was carrying out.
Still, the investigation on Nisman’s accusations will be reopened next month, so let me refresh your memory as to who are those implicated in his report and why.
1. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
The entire accusation presented by Nisman revolves around the involvement of President Cristina Fernandez
Kirchner in the AMIA bombing investigation. More specifically, he was accusing her of being the mastermind behind a plan to clear Iran of any involvement in the 1994 attack. The “Truth Commission” created bilaterally by Argentina and Iran to investigate the case, he argued, would work as a curtain of diplomacy to hide a secret agreement to exchange vast amounts of Argentine meat and cereals for Iranian oil. Also, according to Nisman’s complaint, the deal requested that Argentina would pressure Interpol to lift the arrest warrants issued against Iranian officials allegedly involved in the case.
Even though Nisman’s case is primarily focused on President Kirchner, the accusations against her may be the hardest to prove: The Truth Commission was never established, as a federal court in Argentina deemed it unconstitutional and the international warrants are still in place. In fact, the former Interpol Chief Roland Noble said he was never approached to lift the red notices on the accused Iranians. Even more so, Nisman’s body of evidence rests on a series of phone conversations between the leader of the “Miles” political movement and ultra-Kirchnerite, Luis D’Elía and Alejandro “Yussuf” Khalil, a high profile member of the Islamic community in Argentina; even though the President is mentioned in these conversations, her voice is never heard.
Regardless of the results of the investigation, it is highly unlikely that President Kirchner would survive this major political scandal without a single scratch. In a scenario where society is so intrinsically divided over political views (a situation the Kirchner administration has systematically contributed to as a political strategy), chances are that this scandal will in some way permanently stain her public image and that of any political candidate running for President in the October elections under her auspices.
2. Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman
According to Nisman’s accusations, Minister Timerman was the person in charge of getting this whole plan going. During a secret meeting in Aleppo, Syria in 2011 with then Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Salehi, Timerman allegedly informed the Iranian government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad that the Argentine administration was ready to work on improving commercial relations with Iran and would in turn
drop efforts to solve the AMIA bombing attacks. This allegation on Nisman’s report is backed by a message sent directly by Minister Salehi to President Ahmadinejad saying that “Argentina is no longer interested in resolving those two attacks” and “on the other hand it prefers to improve its commercial relations with Iran”.
Two years later, Timerman ended up being in charge of the negotiation of the Memorandum of Understanding to create the infamous “Truth Commission”, intended as a cover-up for a larger commercial deal and to block any potential investigation of the involvement of Iran on the attacks. His contribution to the case was not only highly criticized by the Jewish community in Argentina: the phone conversations between D’elía and Khalil show that the Iranian counterpart was not thrilled with how Timerman was playing his role in this behind-the-scenes agreement. In one of their phone conversations, D’elía wonders why things are moving so slow on the Iranian side (allegedly referring to the fact that Iran’s Congress never ratified the Memorandum of Understanding to create the Truth Commission). As a response, Khalil cryptically mentions that there’s some “uneasiness” in Iran because the arrest warrants hadn’t been lifted yet (which was a task assigned to Timerman) and because the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Argentina had apparently said publicly that it was not easy for him to negotiate with the Iranians, which would imply that he was just following orders he didn’t agree with.
Due to his Jewish family origins, Timerman’s involvement in the agreement with Iran was perhaps the most criticized by the families of the victims and the whole Jewish community in Argentina.
3. Luis Alberto D’Elía
The leader of the “Miles” political movement is known for being a ferocious defender of the Kirchner Administration and has openly expressed his fondness for the Persian nation in more than one occasion. In fact, in 2006, D’elía resigned from his government position as Undersecretary of Land at the request of President Kirchner, after he went to the Iranian Embassy to repudiate the Argentinian order to capture former Iranian officials for their alleged involvement in the AMIA bombing. Even though he hasn’t had any official government position ever since, he is still considered an ultra-kirchnerite with strong connections to the President’s closest circle of collaborators.
According to Nisman’s accusations, D’elía acted as a go-between for Argentina and Iran through his connections with Khalil. More specifically, Nisman concluded from the phone conversations he had access to that D’elía was acting out as some sort of secret messenger sending missives directly from the President to the highest ranks in Iran’s government. In one of the phone conversations made recently public, D’elía can be heard explaining Khalil that he is a “soldier” of the government, following orders from “la Rosada” (in reference to how the House of Government is colloquially named).
Since Nisman’s death, D’elía has maintained an extremely low profile and has made no comments to the press. The vas majority of the evidence collected by Prosecutor Nisman has him as the main protagonist in the case.
4. Fernando Esteche
Esteche is the leader of the far-left group Movimiento Patriótico Revolucionario Quebracho (Revolutionary Patriotic Movement Quebracho), a political organization that promotes anti-imperialist views, the abolition of private property and the elimination of poverty. Their violent approach to politics has kept them out of the spectrum of political parties running in national elections.
Esteche’s involvement in the alleged plot was not very clear at first. Nisman had originally declared that although he knew that Esteche had been approached by D’elía, it wasn’t very clear in what capacity he was involved in the plot. However, in one of the most recent phone conversations made public, Khalil can be heard discussing the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with D’elía, incredulously declaring that the text had been already proposed 6 years ago and deemed “unfeasible” by the national government. Even though his last name is not specifically mentioned, Nisman believes that when Khalil says that the text had been written that long ago by “Fernando”, he is refereeing to Fernando Esteche.
Esteche was one of the first involved in this case to talk about the allegations with the press, stating that what Nisman was claiming had a level of “vagary and fantasy of a detective’s novel”. Currently, Esteche is represented by Fernando Burlando, a high-profile lawyer usually linked to controversial and highly publicized cases. Burlando has adviced Esteche to refrain from talking to the media.
5. Andrés “’Cuervo” Larroque
Larroque, Secretary-General of “La Cámpora” and congressman for the “Frente para la Victoria,” was accused by Nisman of being the intermediary between President Kirchner and D’elía and Khalil, passing on to them instructions set out by Kirchner to carry out the plot to destroy the Iranian lead on the AMIA bombing case. Nisman’s report states that Larroque “communicated countless times with the informal representative of the Iranian regime, Khalil, contacted and met with the diplomatic representative of Iran and publicly advocated for the smooth running of the plan.” Fellow Congressman from the opposing political party PRO, are working on a request to deprive him of his political immunity.
Even though he has talked to the press after Nisman’s death, he refused to make reference to the allegations made against him, saying that “…(now) is not the time to discuss his accusations…”.
Prosecutor Nisman’s death took place under such suspicious circumstances that it seems to be nothing short of a suspense film, which is why there is a high chance that both national and international media will focus on this dramatic turn of events almost exclusively. Past experience with corruption cases in the country (e.g. the AMIA bombing) are proof enough that justice doesn’t always prevail or that at least it can take decades before any concrete step forward is taken in cases of such magnitude. I believe I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble when I say that there is a high chance that we may never truly know what happened behind Nisman’s death.
I am not going to hypothesize about it in this article; my conspiracy theories are no more effective or realistic than that of any other outsider speculator. However, what I DO believe is that whoever was behind this is so far benefiting from the greatest asset possible in a situation like this: TIME. It its true that Nisman’s death doesn’t erase the evidence he had collected or the accusations he was working on but it most definitely shifts the focus of attention from the actual investigation that should be taking place right away to prove any wrongdoings in the AMIA bombing.
His accusation could in fact be misleading, poorly backed or outright wrong but they need to be looked into right away. Our obligation as citizens is not to play the role of detectives or to try and incriminate any potential murderer. But it is our job to remind the media, government officials and politicians of the entire spectrum that we will not succumb to the spectacle of the shocking news, of the dramatic headlines, and that we understand that there were very serious accusations that need to be taken care of right away.
This is an electoral year and soon other kinds of drama will ensue. If there is someone behind Nisman’s death, they were most definitely trying to gain time and delay any possible investigation.
Let’s make sure we make it very clear that they are not fooling us.