The president of the Argentinian Jewish Community said Thursday he did not believe AMIA terror-attack investigator Alberto Nisman committed suicide, and that Nisman was completely fine when they last met, four days before his death.
Julio Schlosser, the head of the DAIA Jewish leadership group, told The Times of Israel that Nisman’s death was “a complete shock.” Speaking by phone from Buenos Aires, he said Nisman “didn’t have the character of a person who would commit suicide. When I saw him last Wednesday afternoon (January 14), there was nothing different about him. He behaved exactly as he has behaved every time I have seen him during the last eight years.”
Schlosser said the two “talked about what was happening in the news” regarding Nisman’s investigation. “That was the only subject we spoke about.”
Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez made an about-face Thursday, saying she now is “convinced” Nisman’s death was not a suicide, just days after she suggested the man who accused her of protecting Iranians charged in Argentina’s worst terrorist attack had killed himself.
In a letter published on social media sites, Fernandez said questions about Nisman’s death “have been converted into certainty. The suicide (I’m convinced) was not a suicide.” She intimated that Nisman had been killed by domestic opponents of her leadership.
The 51-year-old Nisman was found slumped in the bathroom of his apartment late Sunday with a bullet wound in his head. He was lying next to a .22-caliber handgun and a bullet casing.
The death came days after Nisman gave a judge a 289-page report alleging Fernandez secretly reached a deal to prevent prosecution of former Iranian officials accused of involvement in the 1994 car bombing of Argentina’s largest Jewish center, an attack that killed 85 people and injured more than 200.
His death has rocked Argentina, with polls saying a majority of people reject the idea that Nisman killed himself only hours before he was scheduled to detail his allegations before congress.
Fernandez’s letter contrasts with one she wrote Monday in which she appeared to support the initial finding of suicide, and political analysts said her flip-flop could provoke further turmoil and cast doubt on the investigation’s independence.
“Most of the time, in the Western world, we would say, ‘It’s under investigation,'” said James Cooper, professor at California Western School of Law and an expert on legal reform in Latin America. “Now Cristina came out with this. All the rules are turned on their head.”
Fernandez’s new statements set off a round of questions and sharp criticism from opposition leaders.
“What has happened in the last 72 hours for them to change so completely their position?” opposition Sen. Ernesto Sanz told radio La Once Diez.
In her letter, Fernandez dismissed Nisman’s allegations of a cover-up and said he had been given false information about alleged Iranian spies from Antonio “Jaime” Stiusso, the former operations director of the Secretariat of Intelligence who recently was replaced. She said Nisman had been caught up in internal power struggles in the intelligence community.
Nisman “was used alive and afterwards they needed him dead,” she wrote without specifying who she thought did it. “It’s sad and terrible.”
Viviana Fein, the lead investigator, declined to comment on the president’s comments.
“This isn’t just one more case,” she told reporters before beginning a day of closed-door interviews related to the investigation. “This is a case of institutional gravity and everybody wants to know what happened, including me.”
Nisman’s mother, Sara Garfunkel, was one of the people to speak to Fein on Thursday. Fein said afterwards that Garfunkel said Nisman’s door had two locks and she had opened the one on top with her key. A locksmith was called to open the other lock.
The locksmith, who gave only a first name to reporters, Walter, said Wednesday that he had opened the door easily, fueling speculation that somebody could have broken into the house.
Fein said Thursday that Nisman likely died around noon Sunday, about 10 hours before his body was found.
Investigators said they also were looking into Diego Lagomarsino, a computer technician who worked with Nisman. Authorities said Lagmomarsino owned the gun used in Nisman’s death and he had given it to the prosecutor Saturday afternoon.
Lagomarsino was a frequent visitor to Nisman’s house, Fein said.
Within hours of the discovery of Nisman’s body, Fein had said the death appeared to be suicide and there were no indications anyone else was involved. She said the apartment’s door was locked from the inside and there were no signs it had been forced.
But family and friends of Nisman immediately rejected the finding and protesters took to the streets demanding justice for the prosecutor who had spent 10 years investigating the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center.
No suicide note was found and an initial test of Nisman’s hand showed no gunpowder residue, although Fein said that may have been due to the small caliber of the gun.
Nisman’s report accused Fernandez and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of reaching agreement with Iran to shield eight Iranians, including former senior officials, from prosecution for allegedly masterminding the attack in exchange for a lucrative deal to trade Argentine grains and meat for Iranian oil.
Nisman, who was Jewish, was appointed to his post in 2005 by then President Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’s late husband, after a bungled 10-year probe launched under Menem that led to a trial in which all of the defendants were found not guilty.
A group of Argentines in Israel will hold an “I am Nisman” protest at the Argentine Embassy on Friday to raise questions about the suspicious death.
Kehila Latina in Israel, which was formed two years ago to protest plans by the Argentine and Iranian governments to jointly investigate the AMIA bombing, said the demonstration would take place outside the Tel Aviv-area embassy on Friday morning.
Placards will show Nisman with the phrase “I am Nisman” in Spanish modeled after the “I am Charlie” campaign in French launched in the wake of the terrorist attack by Islamists in Paris earlier this month of staff for the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Among the scheduled speakers at Friday’s rally is the Argentine-Israeli journalist Roxana Levinson, whose uncle Jaime Plaksin was among the 85 people killed in the AMIA bombing. Her aunt Graciela Levinson was killed in 1992 in the terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires. “This death is like another bomb,” she said. “I cried for the Argentinian people’s dignity.”
Leon Amiras, the chairman of OLEI, the organization that represents Latin America immigrants in Israel, will also speak.
Some 120,000 Latin Americans live in Israel, including 80,000 from Argentina. Argentine Jews held a similar protest outside the rebuilt AMIA building in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.
When Schlosser noted at that event that 85 people had been killed in the AMIA attack, people in the crowd shouted “86,” a reference to Nisman. The number 86 has become shorthand for Nisman’s death on social media.
No one from the ruling parties attended the Buenos Aires rally, although opposition party representatives were present, as were the Israeli and French ambassadors.
“This shock to Argentinean society is similar to the shock that we live after Charlie Hebdo,” Jean Michel Casa, the French ambassador, told reporters.
Nisman had received many death threats over the years. The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz, who had interviewed Nisman several times, wrote Monday, in an article entitled, “Who will obtain justice for Alberto Nisman?”: “Nisman told me that he had been warned off the AMIA case by Iran, and that he had received death threats, including one that he found recorded on his home answering machine which was particularly troubling because his daughter was standing next to him when he played it. In one of several subsequent telephone conversations, he said the Iranians had told him — during hearings at which they sought in vain to have their incriminated leaders cleared by Interpol — that he had slandered their nation, that his capture would be sought, and that he would spend years in Iran’s jails… Nisman did not appear particularly fazed by the threats, saying lightly that he had no plans to visit the Islamic Republic. He also swore that he would not cease his work on the case until the perpetrators and orchestrators had been tried, convicted and jailed.”
With reporting by Linda Amar.