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Argentina and Iran in oil-for-terror scam?

Organizers are claiming that up to half a million marched in the pouring rain in Buenos Aires Feb. 18 to demand justice in the case of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who was found dead in his apartment Jan. 18, just after he filed a criminal complaint charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (among others) had conspired to cover up Iran's role in the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. Although slogans against the government were not heard, the "silent march"—called by a group of prosecutors—was seen as a direct challenge to Fernández de Kirchner's administration. Members of Nisman's family, including his eldest daughter, also attended the march. Opposition parties such as the left-wing Broad Front UNEN and centrist Radical Civil Union (UCR) had a visible presence, but prosecutors who had taken on figures close to the  Fernández de Kirchner government won the loudest applause, despite the official "silent" nature of the march. Significantly, the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police—under Mayor Mauricio Macri, who was also at the march—put the figure of attendees at 400,000, while the Federal Police—under Security Secretary Sergio Berni, a member of Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet—estimated only 50,000. (Buenos Aires HeraldBBC News, Feb. 19; InfoBAE, Feb. 18)

On the same day as the march, Foreign Minister Timerman held a press conference to announce that is sending a letter to both US Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman calling for the AMIA case to be "included" in current talks between Washington and Tehran over the Islamic Republic's nuclear ambitions. The letter said that this appeal had been issued before and received no response. The letter also made reference to the lack of progress on the 1992 suicide attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. 

"Argentina is greatly concerned about the increasing frequency with which many countries are used as scenarios in which other states get involved to define disputes according to their own geopolitical interests," the letter stated. "We are also concerned to see how propaganda mechanisms are used overtly or covertly for such purposes. My country rejects such acts and we don’t want them to happen in our territory."

The mention of "propaganda mechanisms" seems to be a reference to the opposition in Argentina. The local press have been emphasizing claims that Nisman had amassed evidence that Fernández and Timerman struck a secret deal with Tehran to cover up Iran's role in the bombing in exchange for gauatntees of oil imports. 

After the initial investigation into the AMIA bombing ended without convictions, Nisman was appointed to reopen the case in 2006. He accused Iran of ordering the attack via Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, and requested arrest warrants for five Iranian officials including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. Fernández was formally charged on Feb. 13. (Latin Post, Feb. 19; MercoPress, Feb. 18; Buenos Aires Herald, Feb. 17; DW, Feb. 15)

One figure sought for questioning in the case is Antonio "Jaime" Stiuso—former head of Argentina's Intelligence Secretariat who was fired by Fernández de Kirchner last year, and apparently went missing after the scandal broke. Prosecutors accompanied by intelligence agents weren't able to find Stiuso at three addresses registered to his name, current Intelligence Secretary Oscar Parrilli said Jan. 29. More than two weeks later, prosecutor Viviana Fein did confirm that she had debriefed Stiuso. While rights groups had accused Stiuso of spying on Fernández de Kirchner's political enemies, the Argentina press now speculates she fired him because he was cooperating with Nisman.

Fernández responded to the claims in an open letter Jan. 22, saying she believed that Nisman was fed false information and then murdered to tarnish her government's image. "They used him while alive and then needed him dead. It’s that sad and terrible," she wrote. "The real operation against the government was the death of the prosecutor." (Buenos Aires Herald, Feb. 18; Bloomberg, Feb. 5; Globe & Mail, Jan. 30;  NPR, Jan. 29)

Forsenic tests carried out by the Buenos Aires police have reportedly revealed that Nisman did not fire the gun that delivered the fatal shot, apparently putting a definitive end to a suicide theory in the case. Diego Lagomarsino, an IT specialist in Nisman's office, says he gave Nisman the .22 pistol to defend himself a few days before the killing. Lagomarsino said Nisman told him he feared attack by government supporters. (La Nación, Feb. 10; The Guardian, Jan. 31; IBT, Jan. 29)

Figures in the Fernández de Kirchner reacted to the protest mobilization by demonizing the organizers. The secretary of the office of the presidency, Aníbal Fernández, said the march had been called by "narcos," "cover-uppers" (encubridores) in the AMIA case, and  Cecilia Pando, a figure of the far-right opposition which actually had no visible presence at the demonstration. He also illogically characterized the protest as an "anti-Semitic outbreak." 

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, a close ally of Fernández de Kirchner, charged that her indictment constituted a "judicial coup." On Feb. 1, after newspaper Clarin reported Nisman's plans to indict Fernández de Kirchner, cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich angrily tore up a copy of the edition at a live press conference.

Waldo Wolff, vice president of the Delegation of Jewish Association of Argentina (DAIA), in turn, responded to the accusations by wryly inviting Aníbal Fernández to participate in the silent march, "with a hug." (La Jornada, Mexico, Feb. 15; InfoBAEInfoBAE, Feb. 13; The Guardian, Feb. 3)

Timerman is himself of Jewish background, as was Nisman.


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