Argentina's government has defended a judge's decision last month to drop a high-profile criminal case against President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in a full-page advertorial posted in an American newspaper over the weekend.
The advertisement in the Wall Street Journal was approved by Argentina's Office of the Chief of Cabinet. It sets out to discredit Alberto Nisman, the investigating prosecutor who mysteriously died a day before he was set to formally accuse the president of orchestrating a massive cover-up in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Days before his death, the 51-year-old told VICE News he had evidence that Argentinia's president and her foreign minister, Hector Timerman, had conspired with Iranian officials to shield the identities of five Iranian diplomats thought to be connected to the bombing that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more.
"Now that the accusation charge has been dismissed, we should ask what purposes prosecutor Nisman sought to achieve with his accusation, which was replete with contradictions and lacked any logical or legal basis," the advertisement reads.
"Can one conceive of any other hypothesis than an attempt to produce a politically destabilizing effect?"
The Argentine cabinet did not immediately respond to VICE News' calls and email requests for comment Sunday. It is not clear how many other outlets in the US or abroad have featured the same or similar government-sponsored advertorials.
Kirchner, who wraps up her second term in office this year, has faced a growing media and public firestorm over the scandal. Opposition leaders and survivors of the bombing have accused her not only of coordinating the cover-up, but also of plotting Nisman's death.
The AMIA case has been plagued by blame-shifting and allegations of corruption over successive governments since 1994. Months after the bombing, Argentina's then leader and Kirchner's late husband, Nestor Kirchner, accused a former administration of a cover-up. Nisman then charged six people — five Iranians and a Hezbollah leader who has since died — for the attack, and in 2007, the international police organization, Interpol, issued arrest warrants for the suspects, which were never delivered.
Nisman's allegations were set to be delivered before Argentina's Congress in January. They included accusations that the president and foreign minister of Argentina back-channeled a trade deal with their Iranian counterparts that exchanged Argentinian grain for Iranian oil. In return, the South American country allegedly agreed to ease up on efforts to prosecute the Iranians allegedly involved in the attack and bring down Interpol's "red flag" notices issued against them, the prosecutor claimed.
Iran and Argentina have both denied the accusations.
After Nisman was found with a bullet to the head in his apartment on January 18, the case was given to another prosecutor named Gerardo Pollicita, who backed and re-submitted Nisman's accusations of a cover-up to a federal court. That court's justice ultimately tossed out the claim on February 26, saying that the gathered evidence, "far form minimally supporting the Prosecutor's allegation, clearly and completely refutes it."
The government's advertorial this weekend highlighted the judge's declaration that Nisman's case was incoherent and contradictory in his findings. It says that the prosecutor simultaneously presented "very positive" reviews of the president and her presidential predecessor's conduct in the matter, including speeches the two Kircherners made at the UN, and an offer made to Iran to shift the investigation to a "third country."
"While Prosecutor Nisman spent the last two years — in his own words — investigating the alleged criminal plan to cover up the AMIA bombings, the prosecutor was preparing a document highlighting the efforts made by the president to prosecute the accused," the advertisement reads.
Kirchner has repeatedly denied accusations she played any role in Nisman's death, claiming that he was murdered by rogue government spies — a theory being looked into by investigators who are still determining if the prosecutor was killed or committed suicide.
The president has also taken steps to declassify details of information and the identities of Argentine Intelligence Secretariat (SI) agents who had provided Nisman with fodder for his damning report. And in late January, she announced she would disband and reform the spy agency altogether.
"Combating impunity has been a priority of my government," Kirchner said as she announced the plan.
Critics immediately branded the move as a stunt to veer public focus away from the Nisman's claims in the AMIA case. The same opposition voices have also expressed concerns that the president's plan to form a new federal intelligence agency would only serve to further her political agenda.
In the WSJ advertisement, the Argentine government further reaffirmed its commitment to "search for truth and justice" in the case, saying it was taking steps to "interrogate the accused Iranian citizens" and "subsequently take the case to oral and public trial."
Kirchner's administration also rebounded blame for the conspiracy to a host of former Argentine officials, including a former president, prosecutors, and an SI boss, whom it accuses of being the perpetrators of the "real cover-up of the bombings."
The Wall Street Journal, which has previously covered the case, issued a brief statement Sunday, which noted that, "The ad was clearly labeled as a paid advertisement and no advertisement, including this one, ever has any impact on our news coverage." The paper did not reveal how long the advertisement had been or would be running.
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields