Ex-Argentina leader Kirchner denies AMIA bombing cover-up in court

Former president accuses judge of being manipulated by successor in probing allegations she helped Iran get away with 1994 attack on Jewish center

Argentina's former president and elected senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks to reporters as she leaves the court in Buenos Aires on October 26, 2017. (AFP/Eitan Abramovich)
Argentina's former president and elected senator Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks to reporters as she leaves the court in Buenos Aires on October 26, 2017. (AFP/Eitan Abramovich)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Former Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on Thursday denied covering up for Iranians accused of involvement in a 1994 bombing at a Buenos Aires Jewish center that left 85 people dead,

Kirchner appeared before a court as part of an investigation into prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s accusation that she covered up Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack on the AMIA center in the Argentine capital.

Calling the case an “absurdity,” Kirchner, who held office from 2007 until 2015, went on to attack the judge overseeing the case, which is based on charges first leveled two years ago by Nisman, who was found dead in his home shortly before he was due to present his allegations publicly.

“I don’t expect any justice from you,” Kirchner, reading from a 17-page prepared statement, told federal judge Claudio Bonadío.

Kirchner is facing accusations of treason and plotting a cover-up for signing a 2012 pact with Iran that would have allowed senior Iranian officials accused in the deadly attack to be investigated in their own country, rather than in Argentina.

The aftermath of the 1994 AMIA bombing in Buenos Aires (Newspaper La Nación (Argentina/Wikipedia Commons)

The judge, whom Kirchner tried to remove from office while she was still president, has 15 days to rule on whether to press forward with the charges, which also apply to Kirchner’s former foreign minister, Hector Timerman, and other political aides.

The hearing came after Sunday’s congressional elections, in which Kirchner won a Senate seat despite a surge in support for President Mauricio Macri, the center-right leader who succeeded her in office.

Senators enjoy immunity from prosecution, although this week judges stripped a former minister in Kirchner’s government of his immunity as part of a corruption probe.

Kirchner has denied the allegations and told reporters that Macri is politically manipulating the judge who ordered her to appear in court as part of the case. She declined to testify before the judge, and only presented the written statement.

“This is a great judicial absurdity.” said Kirchner. “The aim of this judicial persecution is to intimidate opposition leaders in congress. They want a submissive congress.”

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

The charges of federal prosecutor Nisman — who was found dead in his apartment with a bullet wound to the head just one day before he was to appear before congress to set out his case — had been rejected several times by courts as lacking substance, but the case was reopened in February.

In asking for the case to be resumed, federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita said that there existed “a criminal plan that had been orchestrated and put into practice” and whose aim was to “grant impunity” to Iranians who had international arrest warrants out on them.

The agreement was passed by the Argentine congress but not by Iran, and never came into effect.

The former head of state said in court that the memorandum “had one aim: to allow an investigation into the Iranians accused in the AMIA attack, so that the case could move forward.”

She has argued in the past that since Iran and Argentina have no extradition agreement, and Argentina does not carry out trials in absentia, there was no other way to proceed with the investigation.

Prosecutors are also looking into whether the country’s leadership at the time of the attack on the AMIA Jewish center had conspired to obstruct the investigation.

Participants hold photos of some of the 85 victims at a memorial ceremony on the 22nd anniversary of the AMIA Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires on July 18, 2016. (Leonardo Kremenchuzky, courtesy of AMIA/Via JTA)

In the dock are ex-president Carlos Menem, who ran the country from 1989 to 1999, the judge who led the investigation for its first 10 years, the ex-head of the intelligence agency, two prosecutors and a representative of the Jewish community, among others.

The AMIA bombing was the most deadly attack ever carried out in Argentina, and occurred just two years after a bomb attack on the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires. Nisman traced responsibility for both attacks back to Iran.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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