News on the Nisman Case is back with a vengeance this week and centers around the elusive Antonio “Jaime” Stiuso: the former head of the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) who fled the country last year but returned to testify on the late Prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death (for a second time) on Monday, claiming Nisman was murdered, point blank, by members of a group closely tied to the former Kirchner administration.
What’s followed is a jam-packed week filled with accusations and cross-accusations (outlined below). But before we launch into the details, let’s recap this week’s major events (so far):
- Monday: Stiuso testifies for a grueling 16 hours.
- Tuesday: Judge Fabiana Palmaghini, who has been presiding over the investigation, announces that she will resign from the case, deeming herself “incompetent” to go on.
- Wednesday: Former AFI head Oscar Parrilli calls Stiuso “a lying psychopath” and Stiuso calls into television show Intratables, making for a very creepy “guest star” appearance.
- Thursday: Clarín publishes a piece revealing that Stiuso, in his Monday testimony, accused ultra leftist group Quebracho of having murdered Nisman.
Here’s a refresher on the Nisman Case: Alberto Nisman was the former chief investigator of the 1994 Argentine Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) bombing, the most deadly terrorist attack in Argentine history in which 85 people died and hundreds were injured, and was found dead in his home on January 18th, 2015 from a single gunshot to the head, just hours before he was meant to provide evidence against then President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for allegedly attempting to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing. Nisman believed the Argentine President had hopes of repairing trade relations with Iran in order to import Iranian oil, and for this reason swept evidence under the rug. Stiuso worked closely with Nisman on the investigation into the 1994 bombing.
In brief, Stiuso claimed that Nisman was murdered because of the investigation he was conducting into the 1994 AMIA bombing and, more specifically, because of the accusations he was leveling against Cristina. Because of these accusations, which held that Cristina willfully covered up Iran’s involvement in the bombing, Cristina, Legal and Technical Secretary Carlos Zannini and former Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández plotted his murder, according to Stiuso.
“A group linked to the previous government killed Nisman for his accusations against ex-President Cristina Kirchner,” Stiuso said in his testimony. “The parties responsible for this madness are that woman, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Zannini and Aníbal Fernández, who took care of the media. All the others involved were their henchman dancing to their music.”
As revealed by today’s Clarín piece, these “henchmen” would be, according to Stiuso, members of the leftist group Quebracho, which is led by Fernando Esteche, and followers of ultra-Kirchnerite leader Luis D’Elía, all “with Iranian support.”
Esteche and D’Elía had previously been accused of being complicit in covering up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing in a case rejected by Judge Daniel Rafecas in February 2015. The accusation was presented by Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita but was based on Nisman’s case against Cristina.
In his Monday testimony, Stiuso maintained that the parties responsible for the 1994 bombing were “Iran along with Hezbollah” because “Argentina didn’t follow through with a promise to hand over a heavy water plant” (heavy water is used in the production of nuclear weapons).
Stiuso’s marathon testimony thus added fuel to Ricardo Sáenz’s declaration last week alleging that Nisman was murdered because of the position he held as a public official, which, if deemed credible, would move the case to Federal Justice. The case is currently being carried out in a court on the basis that his death was not motivated by politics.
This was the second time Stiuso was questioned on Nisman’s death. The first time, in February 2015, he appeared before then-Prosecutor Viviana Fein, a few days before leaving the country and shortly before having to appear before new AFI head Oscar Parrilli.
Speaking on Radio Vorterix on Wednesday, Stiuso’s lawyer, Santiago Blanco Bermúdez, said that after Stiuso left the country, he was “phenomenally” persecuted by the previous administration. You may recall that Stiuso caused quite the hoopla between Argentina and the US, where he was believed to be harbored, as former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner repeatedly requested the US release information on Stiuso’s whereabouts, to no apparent avail.
Bermúdez said that his client’s return to Argentina and willingness to testify again was due to “there being a much more relaxed political climate with the change in government.”
He added that although Stiuso doesn’t have “direct proof” of Nisman’s murder, his testimony provides an “interpretation” of the motives behind his alleged murder.
Stiuso’s testimony has resulted in a massive amount of backlash, notably from his successor in the AFI, Oscar Parrilli, who called Stiuso a “lying psychopath” and referred to his testimony as a “smear campaign.”
Judge Fabiana Palmaghini Steps Down From The Case
You may recall that Palmaghini took over the Nisman Case from Prosecutor Fein in December, after deeming that continuous clashes between the plaintiffs — Nisman’s daughters and partner on one side and his mother and sister on the other — and Prosecutor Fein had stalled the investigation for so long that it was practically frozen.
She also said that it would be premature to decide if the case should be transferred to Federal Justice in a ruling that sustained there wasn’t sufficient evidence to back homicide as a central hypothesis. And in that same breath, she also requested Stiuso return to Argentina for further questioning.
Which brings us to Monday, Stiuso’s questioning. The very next day, Palmaghini declared herself to be unfit to continue presiding over the case and ordered the case be transferred to Federal Justice, which investigates cases involving public officials.
Part of Palmaghini’s reasons for stepping down from the case, according to her written statement, include suspicions that evidence in Nisman’s apartment was tampered with. Specifically, she writes that former Security Secretary Sergio Berni “contaminated” the crime scene before measures were taken to preserve the scene.
The decision to transfer the case opens a couple of possibilities. If the decision isn’t appealed, the case will be transferred directly to Federal Justice. But if there are any appeals, then the Criminal Chamber will have to intervene.
So Where Does That Leave The Case?
Stiuso’s testimony as well as Palmaghini stepping down may help Criminal Chamber Prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz’ bid to have the case moved to another jurisdiction. According to some experts, if the case is sent to the Federal Justice, the theory that Nisman was murdered may have more sway than the theory he committed suicide.
It’s worth clarifying this case has nothing to do with Nisman’s accusation against Cristina and co., which was dismissed by Federal Judge Rafecas last year.
For now, stay tuned to see if the case makes it to Federal Justice and how that might change the way this case is carried out.