Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Argentinean Prosecutor Death: Assassination, Suicide, or Coup?

By Jennifer KimPublished February 20, 2015

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Argentina plunged into turmoil only a few weeks ago when it was discovered that a prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found dead in his home only hours before he was set to testify in front of Congress over President Kirchner's involvement in shielding alleged Iranian terrorists in exchange for trade agreements. Recent findings have since emerged, leaving some fully convinced of Kirchner's involvement in the suspicious death-- and others less sure.
By Jennifer Kim, 02/20/15

In 1994, Argentina was shocked when 85 people were killed and hundreds more were injured after an explosive-packed van detonated in a Jewish community in Buenos Aires. To date, it is the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's history. In wake of the tragedy, numerous rumors flew about the involvement of Iranians—and the possibility that President Kirchner herself had struck a deal with the Iranian government to hide those Iranians involved in exchange for trade agreements. Nothing was ever confirmed, however.

On January 18, Prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his home, along with a gun. His death came one day before he was due to present in Congress about President Kirchner's involvement in a trade deal with Iran to protect Iranians involved in the infamous 1994 bombing. A few weeks after Nisman's death, a drafted warrant for President Kirchner's arrest was found in his trash can.  Although initially investigators ruled his death as a suicide, they later confirmed that homicide or "induced suicide" could not be ruled out. Nisman's 289-page report was found to have been published online, basing its case on tapped telephone communications between Argentinean and Iranian representatives.

In response to Nisman's death, thousands of Argentineans have taken to the streets in protest. President Kirchner initially stated that she believed Nisman's death to be suicide, but just a few days later made an about-face, claiming that the attack was an attempt by her opponents in the intelligence agency to frame her and obliterate her power. Her change in stance followed two major finds: 1) the locksmith that first helped Nisman's mother enter the apartment stated that someone could have easily entered the apartment with even just a wire, as opposed to previous reports that stated that the door could only have been opened from the inside; and 2) the prosecutor investigating Nisman's death discovered no gunpowder residue on his hands—something that would have been likely had Nisman pulled the trigger himself

Following the controversy, President Kirchner has announced that she is planning to dismantle Argentina's intelligence agency. Affirming that the structure of the intelligence body had remained much the same as it was during Argentina's military government, which ended in 1983, she stated in a TV address that "the plan is to dissolve the Intelligence Secretariat and create a Federal Intelligence Agency". The leadership of such an agency would be chosen by the president, although subject to Senate approval

Many people are firmly convinced that President Kirchner's hand must have been involved, citing the highly suspicious timing, the President's initial equivocation in responding, and her attack on the intelligence agency. However, the messiness with which the President responded to the controversy rouses doubt as to whether she was behind the attack. Had she actually ordered an assassination, it is highly likely that she would have ensured it was executed cleanly— as opposed to leaving the body, gun, and warrant for her arrest all behind at the scene of the crime. As well, it is impossible that Kirchner would not have expected suspicion to be cast on her because of the timing. Her response to the discovery was not the well-rehearsed response of a President anticipating massive controversy, but rather that of a person caught completely off guard. Despite the overwhelming suspicion being cast upon Kirchner, it may be possible that her accusations of inner-governmental officials and intelligence officers seeking to depose her may have been correct—or that some other third party is behind this all.