When Argentina's weekly Noticias magazine ran a cover story promising to reveal "secrets" of Alberto Nisman's controversial case against President Cristina Kirchner, the prosecutor's ex-wife noticed something curious about the photo inside her copy.
The prosecutor's forehead had been tagged with a black mark in the shape of a bullet hole.
The next day, on January 18, Nisman's body was found in a puddle of blood in his bathroom with a revolver at his side. The lead prosecutor in the investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center which killed 85 people, he had been due the following day to formally accuse Kirchner of orchestrating a cover-up of alleged Iranian involvement to pave the way for a key trade deal.
His ex-wife, judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, has now revealed the image in the latest twist of a political scandal that has rocked Argentina and sent aftershocks across the globe. Other copies of the magazine that she had checked did not bear the same mark, she said.
(Photo via Infobae)
This follows the revelation on Tuesday that a draft warrant for Kirchner's arrest was found in Nisman's apartment. The 26-page document, which also calls for the arrest of Argentina's foreign minister, Hector Timerman, was not included in the final file Nisman had been due to present in Congress the day after he died — but its disclosure has heightened speculation about the nature of his death.
In a remarkable U-turn, prosecutor Viviana Fein, who is handling the Nisman investigation, had previously denied the existence of the warrant — while cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich shredded a copy of the newspaper which broke the story on live television, denouncing it as "lies and trash."
A chaotic chain of events in the last few days has seen two judges refuse to take on Nisman's original charges that Fernandez, Timerman and others in government struck a secret pact with Tehran to secure a favorable oil deal in exchange for promises that Iran would not be implicated in the deadly bombing. Iran has always denied any involvement in the attack.
Several more legal investigations are underway, examining various aspects of Nisman's convoluted case.
His ex-wife, Arroyo Salgado, submitted the altered magazine photo to a judge who is looking at threats Nisman received by email in 2012 and 2013 over his connections to Antonio Stiuso, a powerful former intelligence boss who helped him gather information but was fired by Kirchner in December.
Arroyo Salgado said she is unsure if the incident is related to Nisman's death. Her current partner had obtained an extra copy of the magazine from a newsstand, believing it had not arrived with their Saturday paper, but then found another hidden inside the pages. "He is certain that the magazine with the drawing (of the bullet hole) is the one he bought at the stand," Arroyo declared in her statement to judge Luis Rodriguez.
Her partner also reported hearing mysterious footsteps on an upper floor of their house and called police, who found nothing.
In a separate case, federal prosecutor Guillermo Marijuan has demanded an explanation about footage of Nisman arriving at an airport in Buenos Aires, filmed by security cameras that appear to clearly follow him.
The video was recorded on January 12 as Nisman returned from a family holiday, and released ten days later by TV news channel C5N. In his statement, Marijuan wrote that the images amount to an "intelligence operation" that violates "every constitutional guarantee that protects the intimacy and integrity of a person."
"What emerges from the Nisman case is a clear picture of all the institutional travails in Argentina," said Federico Finchelstein, director of Latin American studies at The New School in New York. He said the situation has exposed "the paradox between an authoritarian state and an open, critical civil society," in which the government believes it is "the owner of the single truth" — as revealed by Capitanich's vehement denial of what turned out to be a fact.
"That was a message against the media. It betrays a unitary understanding of politics in which there is only one opinion that matters — the executive — and if that changes, everyone else should change," Finchelstein told VICE News.
Recent weeks have seen tensions rise between the Kirchner administration and journalists — particularly those attached to opposition-leaning publications such as the Clarin newspaper, which first published the warrant story.
Damian Pachter, a reporter for the Buenos Aires Herald who broke Nisman's death on Twitter, fled Argentina on January 24 and is now in Israel. In an interview at the airport, he spoke of being trailed by intelligence agents and fearing he was a "marked" man.
The official account of La Casa Rosada, Argentina's presidential palace, subsequently tweeted a screen shot of Pachter's flight details from what looks like an airline booking system.
Coupled with Pachter's surveillance claim, that strange yet relatively innocuous act can be seen as an ominous sign of the crossover between "politics, the security state and gangsterism" which Finchelstein believes has been "suddenly illuminated" by the Nisman case.
"The relationship between the executive and judiciary is too close, and investigative reporters are correcting that lack of separation of powers," he continued.
"It's an open secret in Argentina, but now it has come out of the shadows."
Follow Frederick Bernas on Twitter: @frederickbernas