ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Argentina’s government accuses courts of ‘judicial coup’

After president charged with cover-up in Jewish center bombing, her confidants call prosecutors liars bent on destabilizing democracy

File photos of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (left), Buenos Aires, September 19, 2012, and of Argentina's deceased public prosecutor Alberto Nisman (right), Buenos Aires, May 20, 2009 (photo credit: Juan Mabromata/AFP)
File photos of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (left), Buenos Aires, September 19, 2012, and of Argentina's deceased public prosecutor Alberto Nisman (right), Buenos Aires, May 20, 2009 (photo credit: Juan Mabromata/AFP)

The cabinet chief of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said Friday the courts were trying to stage a “judicial coup” by accusing the embattled leader of a cover-up scandal, and lashed out at prosecutors’ plans to hold a march next Wednesday to mark one month since the mysterious death of the top investigator in the case.

The prosecutor who inherited the high-profile case against Kirchner on Friday reaffirmed the accusations, formally renewing the investigation into whether the president helped Iranian officials cover up their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita’s decision to go forward with the case was significant because it sets the stage for a close examination of the investigation that prosecutor Alberto Nisman was building before he was found dead on January 18. The next day, Nisman was scheduled to elaborate his accusations to Congress.

Nisman accused Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and others in her administration of brokering the cover-up in exchange for favorable deals on oil and other goods from Iran. Kirchner and Timerman have strongly denied the accusations, and Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in the bombing, which killed 85 people.

In his statement released Friday afternoon, Pollicita recounted Nisman’s accusations without providing analysis of them. He concluded that an investigation was necessary to “achieve a degree of understanding to prove or disprove the factual and dogmatic extremes expressed in the preceding paragraphs.”

Pollicita will present his findings to judge Daniel Rafecas, the federal magistrate assigned to the case who will ultimately decide whether to dismiss it or send it on to trial.

Meanwhile Friday, three other prosecutors and a coordinator were named to take over Nisman’s general investigation into the bombing itself, which he had led for 10 years. No one has been convicted in the case.

Even before Pollicita’s decision, amid rumors that it was coming, the administration was moving to both reject and minimize it.

Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich called the move a “judicial coup” during his daily press briefing.

“The Argentine people should know that we’re talking about a vulgar lie, of an enormous media operation, of a strategy of political destabilization and the biggest judicial coup d’etat in the history of Argentina to cover the real perpetrators of the crime,” he said.

Similarly, Presidential spokesman Anibal Fernandez said moving the case forward was a “clear maneuver to destabilize democracy” but that ultimately “it has no legal value. It does not matter.”

The strength of Nisman’s 289-page investigation, presented to a judge a few days after his death, has been hot topic of debate within the legal community.

The basis of his case are wiretaps of administration officials allegedly talking about a secret deal around the time of a 2013 “Memorandum of Understanding” that Argentina reached with Iran. The agreement, which is being challenged in Argentine courts, on its face sets the conditions for the two countries to investigate the bombing.

Juan Jose Avila, a criminal lawyer, said arguing that Nisman’s case wasn’t strong enough misses the point, because at this stage, no investigation is ready to be tried in court.

“No accusation, when it’s first made, is proven,” he said.

Meanwhile Nisman’s ex-wife on Thursday called for an international investigation of his mysterious death.

Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009. (photo credit: AFP/Juan Mabromata)
Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009. (photo credit: AFP/Juan Mabromata)

Sandra Arroyo Salgado, herself a judge, made the plea at a meeting organized by opposition parties in Congress, where she stated that she had asked the Public Defender’s Office to have Nisman’s death investigated by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“The Argentine state acknowledged its responsibility before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for not investigating (its) worst-ever terrorist attack that killed 85 people and now also the prosecutor investigating the case,” she said in a statement that was widely interpreted as implying that Argentine justice authorities have not demonstrated the competence necessary to investigate the death of Nisman. Nisman, who was Jewish, was in 2004 appointed chief prosecutor of the bombing at the AMIA Jewish community center.

Nisman’s ex-wife also complained of leaks in the probe into his death, which is headed by investigator Viviana Fein.

“One does not need to be a lawyer to understand that leaking information of an ongoing criminal investigation can make it collapse,” Arroyo Salgado said.

Nisman, 51, was found in his Buenos Aires apartment with a gunshot wound to the head on January 18.

His death was initially labeled a suicide, but suspicion has fallen on Kirchner’s government. The president has suggested Nisman was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.

Timerman insisted this week that he and Kirchner did not benefit from Nisman’s death.

“Who gained by having Mr. Nisman dead?” he told the Washington Post. “Not me. Not the president.”

Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman (photo credit: CC-BY, MRECIC ARG, Flickr)
Argentinian Foreign Minister Hector Timerman (photo credit: CC-BY, MRECIC ARG, Flickr)

Timerman said that as a Jew he would not turn his back on his people and their history by derailing the investigation of the 1994 attacks.

“For what? To get what? Oil? Argentina does not import oil. We don’t need oil,” Timerman said.

In fact, Argentina today has oil, and does not need imports, thanks to the fracking boom.

But as recently as 2011 — during Kirchner’s term as well as her husband (Nestor Kirchner)’s before her — Buenos Aires was spending billions of dollars a year on oil imports when global prices were still sky high.

Meanwhile, Argentine forensic experts began work Tuesday to trace the source of unidentified DNA found at Nisman’s home.

Investigators searching the prosecutor’s apartment uncovered DNA that differed from his but has not yet been identified.

“It remains unknown who the genetic profile that differs from Nisman’s corresponds to,” said Judge Fabiana Palmaghini.

Nisman’s death will be commemorated in rallies around the world on February 18 — exactly one month after he died.

In the United States, rallies are scheduled in Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Houston and San Francisco, in addition to rallies planned in Europe, in Berlin, Athens and Paris.

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