District Attorney for the Buenos Aires Criminal Appeals Court says AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered and recommends the case be handed over to a federal court

More than a year after the mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, an Argentinian judicial authority has classified his death as a homicide.

Prosecutor Nisman was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his apartment only hours before he was set to testify before the Argentine Congress about his complaint against then-President Cristina Kirchner and then-Foreign Minister Hector Timerman.

Nisman’s complaint, based on thousands of taped conversations, accuses Kirchner and Timerman of attempting to whitewash Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires which killed 85 and wounded hundreds.

On February 25, 2016 District Attorney for the Buenos Aires Criminal Appeals Court, Ricardo Saenz, presented his opinion before the Sixth Division that the Nisman case be handed over to federal authorities and pursued as a murder investigation. “The evidence up to this point supports the hypothesis that Alberto Nisman was the victim of homicide.”

Saenz’s opinion had eight main arguments:

1) The prosecutor was “found dead four days after having made a serious complaint against the President for planning to conceal Iran’s role in the AMIA attack, and a few hours before he was set to testify about the complaint before Congress.”

2) The testimony of UF-AMIA Secretary Soledad Castro, who knew Nisman well and had worked together with him for years investigating the AMIA attack, “invalidates claims that Nisman had taken his life freely and voluntarily. Far from being anxious or depressed, Nisman was satisfied, in good spirits, fully convinced of the justice of his actions, and determined to present before lawmakers on January 19, 2015.”

3) Evidence from the murder weapon proved that Nisman did not kill himself since “indisputably, the type of gun that killed Nisman leaves behind residue, even 20 hours after the shot is fired, while Nisman’s hands contained no gunshot residue.”

The reports also ruled out that blood could have dragged the gunshot residue particles off the victim’s hands. ‘Hence, there are no doubts that it was not Nisman who fired the gun that killed him, which leads to the conclusion that Nisman was a victim of a homicide.”

4) “The location of the shot, the hematoma on the left occipital area of the skull, the lesion on the inner side of the left leg suggesting that Nisman was hit several times before he was shot in the head, and the testimonies of Dr. Mendoza and nurse Lopez from the Swiss Medical team that indicated that Nisman’s body was moved thereby altering the crime scene” rule out the hypothesis of suicide.

5) Nisman’s cellphone and computer were tampered with. In addition to the virus found on Nisman’s phone, evidence shows that traces of information and calls that Nisman received hours before his death were deleted.

6) Nisman’s apartment lacked fingerprint and footprints that would have naturally been left by a number of people who had visited the apartment in the days before his death, leading to suspicions that they were “cleaned.”

7) Little credibility should be given to statements by Lagomarsino, custodian Ruben Benitez, and Commissioner Soto because “their statements could only be corroborated by Nisman himself and also because the three contradict each other.” Moreover, “the usage of a ‘friendly’ weapon as a murder weapon is the best way to stage a homicide scene into a suicide scene and guarantee the impunity of the murderers.”

8) The homicide occurred “in the context of a ‘free zone’ [an old term from the period of the military dictatorship, which meant a corrupt collaboration where “task forces” of the dictatorship or its allied gangs had free reign in an area that the police would not enter. In this context it insinuates that there was a relaxation of official security services around Nisman’s apartment]” which speaks to the delay in entering the prosecutor’s apartment despite having a team of round the clock police protection.

Saenz’s recommendation that the case be moved to federal court and his assessment that Nisman was murdered will be taken into consideration by justices Marcelo Lucini, Mario Filozof, and Rodolfo Pociello Argerich who will decide on March 18, 2016 if the case is moved to federal court or if Judge Palmaghini will remain in charge of the investigation. Judge Mario MarioF Filozof is considered to be a friend and ally of Palmaghini.

Judge Palmaghini rejected in mid-January a request that the case be transferred to a federal court stating that the request was “premature” as there were no indications yet that Nisman was killed as part of his role as the AMIA prosecutor. The judge also argued that there remain other things to examine in the case, including a report by an interdisciplinary board of experts in criminology. The judge is also waiting to hear testimony from former Argentinian Intelligence agent Antonio “Jaime” Stiusso, on Monday February 29, 2016.

If the court approves the change, the case goes to the jurisdiction of the Federal Capital and from there to the Comodoro Py courts in Buenos Aires.

In the federal system Judge Luis Rodriguez is already investigating alleged threats against Nisman’s family dating back to 2012. The decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals is not definitive and can be appealed. The dispute over who has jurisdiction to investigate Nisman’s death could reach the Argentinian Supreme Court.

For Saenz’s opinion (in Spanish) click here.