The following opinion column was written by Andres Oppenheimer, an Argentine journalist who has been living in the United States for several decades and is an expert in Latin American affairs.
Argentina’s president Alberto Fernandez is scheduled to visit Israel on Jan. 23 to attend a ceremony in honor of Holocaust victims. Nice, but that won’t make up for his shameful flip-flop in the “Nisman case.” It’s a scandal that has enraged many Argentines and much of the world’s Jewish community.
Fernandez has suddenly changed his tune about the mysterious death five years ago of Alberto Nisman, the courageous prosecutor who was investigating Iran’s ties to the 1994 bombing of AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. The terrorist attack killed 85 people and wounded 151.
Nisman’s death, which is again making headlines after this month’s release of the Netflix documentary “The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy,” was originally described as a suicide by then-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Nisman was found dead in his bathroom from a gunshot to the head the day before he was scheduled to show new evidence in congress about his charges that Fernandez de Kirchner had made a deal with Iran to cover up its role in the AMIA bombing. Nisman’s investigation had earlier concluded that the Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group was responsible for the AMIA attack.
Shortly after the prosecutor’s death, however, it became increasingly clear that he may have been murdered.
Nisman’s hands showed no clear signs of gunpowder. There were indications that his body may have been moved after his death. His bodyguards had mysteriously disappeared hours before the tragedy, and some of the building’s cameras had inexplicably malfunctioned that night.
Perhaps more significantly, as I found out myself in an exchange of emails with Nisman hours before his death, he was enthusiastically looking forward to his testimony in Congress.
I had asked Nisman for an interview, and he responded in an email dated Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015 at 9:57 a.m., that he was “obviously interested” in doing it. He added, “Let’s talk on Monday at around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.” after his scheduled congressional testimony. He died Sunday, Jan 18, at 2:46 am, his autopsy revealed later.
He sounded self-confident and eager to talk — far from a depressed person contemplating suicide. Several other people who talked to him hours before his death got the same impression. A 2016 psychological autopsy of Nisman found no evidence of “self-destructive behavior” in the days prior to his death.
Even Argentina’s current President Fernandez said in a 2017 interview for the Netflix documentary on the Nisman case that, “I doubt that he committed suicide.”
But after the documentary’s Jan. 1 release, Fernandez made a 180-degree U-turn and said that, “The accumulated evidence does not lead to the conclusion that it was a homicide.”
The Argentine president, who owes his election victory last year to the political support of his vice president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is obviously trying to protect her from suspicion that her government — or somebody who was part of it — was responsible for Nisman’s possible murder.
“Fernandez changed his speech on the Nisman murder because of a political deal he made with Cristina,“ opposition congressman Waldo Wolff told me. “He did it out of political convenience.”
The bottom line is that, five years after Nisman’s death, the only certainty is that Argentina’s investigation into the case has been a sham. The case has been so messed up that — spoiler alert! — not even the exhaustive six-hour Netflix documentary could conclude whether Nisman took his own life or was murdered.
We need a formal international investigation to solve the Nisman case. It has been done before by several other countries facing similar bungled high-profile investigations.
Lebanon created an 11-member criminal tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands — supervised by the United Nations — to look into the 2005 terrorist attack that killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others. The tribunal concluded that Iran-financed Hezbollah terrorists were responsible for the attack.
Argentina’s President Fernandez should urgently call for a similar U.N.-led probe into Nisman’s death. Otherwise, his trip to Israel — even though it will be his first foreign trip as president — will be seen as little more than a public-relations stunt designed to eclipse his dubious new claim that the late prosecutor probably killed himself.