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The Death of a Prosecutor: Argentina’s Kirchner Accuses Nisman of Ties to Vulture Fund Manager

We spoke to Diego Lagomarsino, the aide who lent Alberto Nisman the gun used to end his life. In three months since the man investigating the AMIA center bombing was found dead, the case gets weirder and uglier.

by Gaston Cavanagh
Apr 20 2015, 11:55pm

Imagen por Rodrigo Abd/AP

It has been three months and two days since prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead in his Buenos Aires apartment with a bullet wound to the head.

What exactly happened to the Argentine prosecutor — who was investigating the 1994 AMIA Jewish center bombing and preparing a blockbuster accusation against Argentina's president — is still unknown. And the case seems to get weirder and uglier with every day that passes.

On Sunday, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner topped her previous public theorizing on what happened to Nisman that Sunday, January 18, by saying that he had ties to a Wall Street vulture-fund manager that her government partly blames for Argentina's financial ills.

"You see, everything has to do with everything," Fernandez de Kirchner wrote in an essay on her personal site.

Her source for the claim is a story published in an officialist newspaper, by the ex director of Argentina's association of Jewish leaders, which states that Nisman once said that, "if necessary," hedge fund manager Paul Singer "could help us."

Nisman was allegedly referring to resistance to a memorandum of understanding eventually signed in 2013 between Iran and Argentina and aimed at solving the AMIA attack.

"We are facing a global modus operandi, which not only severely injures national sovereignty by interfering and coercing the functioning of the various powers of state, but also generates international political operations of any type, shape, and color," Kirchner's statement said.

Related: Crime-Weary Argentina Sees More Mob Violence and Vigilante Killings.

The case was further cast into disarray on Monday, when an appeal was rejected in a claim to throw out Nisman's case against Kirchner. The ruling effectively shut down any investigation into the allegation that Nisman left against the president.

Still, the Nisman mystery is regarded as a credibility crisis for the entire country, and has revealed deep political divisions. Tens of thousands of people have marched both against Kirchner's handling of the case and in support of her. Political considerations have also come into play, as Argentina elects a new president in October.

One popular belief is that the government killed Nisman, or ordered his death, after he accused President Kirchner of covering up alleged Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

The attack remains one of the most devastating in the country's history, leaving 85 people dead and hundreds injured. Twenty one years later, no one has been prosecuted for the bombing and the exact cause of the blast remains in dispute.

Kirchner's supporters, on the other hand, speak of Nisman's death as an attempt to arouse a coup. Other loyalists blame foreign intelligence agencies.

The theory is that foreign players were working to damage her credibility — particularly after spats with the United States and United Kingdom. Leaked US diplomatic cables showed Nisman had extensive contact with the US Embassy in Buenos Aires, which apparently coached him on his investigation into possible Iranian involvement in the AMIA attack.

Related: Argentina Wants Americans to Think Alberto Nisman Was Full of Shit.

Pedestrians walk past a slogan saying, "Be Strong, Cristina!" in Buenos Aires. (Photo via AP)

The investigation into Nisman's death inches along, but the prosecutors in charge of the case have not yet been able to determine how or even precisely when he died. Public fighting over the investigation has gotten ugly.

Nisman's ex-wife, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, filed an objection on March 27 alleging that the prosecutor appointed to take on the case, Viviana Fein, is mishandling the investigation by treating it as a probable suicide.

The dispute between Fein and Arroyo was heightened when private investigators hired by Nisman's ex-wife released a report explicitly rejecting the theory that the death had been a suicide. They are convinced that Nisman was murdered, but Fein continues to operate under the belief that evidence so far points to suicide.

The report released by Arroyo's investigators said prosecutor Nisman died on his knees, and that his body was then moved. It also highlights the fact that two ballistics tests revealed no traces of gunpowder on Nisman's hands, and claims his body showed signs of torture.

In spite of the criticism Fein faces, her investigation continues, and does consider the prosecutor's death to be "suspicious." Last week, investigators began testing the clothes worn by Diego Lagomarsino, an employee of Nisman who the last person to see him alive. Lagomarsino admitted that he lent Nisman his 22-caliber Bersa, which fired the fatal shot.

Preliminary tests showed that no blood was found on Lagomarsino's clothing.

Lagomarsino claims that on Saturday, January 17, Nisman asked Lagomarsino if he could borrow his gun. Lagomarsino is a 35-year-old computer technician, who has worked on-call for Nisman since 2007.

"The prosecutor was afraid," Lagomarsino told VICE News. "He wanted the pistol to defend himself."

Related: Watch Rosario: Violence, Drugs, and Football (Full-length).

Kirchner has swayed every which way over Nisman's death. Early on, she suggested it was a suicide.

"The prosecutor lived in Puerto Madero's Le Parc Tower, with advanced surveillance systems, access codes, camera monitoring, and the constant presence of guards," Kirchner wrote on January 19, the day after the prosecutor was found dead.

"What could have led to someone making such a terrible decision as taking their own life?"

Her administration later backtracked on the statement, saying that the prosecutor had probably been murdered as a way to discredit Kirchner's government.

In a recent interview, Lagomarsino told VICE News he lent Nisman the gun, taught him how to use it, and even gave the prosecutor bullets. Afterwards, he said he told Nisman how to empty the chamber. The prosecutor allegedly tested the gun's action, and when they put the gun away, Lagomarsino said it was unloaded.

Lagomarsino, besides being accused of committing a "crime of passion" by lawmaker Salvador Cabral, was also accused by Kirchner cabinet chief Aníbal Fernández of being a spy and secretly reporting to the now-defunct federal intelligence secretary, which was dissolved shortly after the prosecutor's death.

This was eventually proven to be false, and Kirchner's administration shifted focus elsewhere.

These accusations, and the theories that Kirchner espoused on national television and on Facebook, at first helped Lagomarsino to be viewed sympathetically by the public. This support, however, began to fade as Arroyo's investigators reported on March 16 that the death may have occurred while Lagomarsino was still in Nisman's apartment that Saturday night.

As a result, Lagomarsino was once again named the prime suspect. The technician charged more than $4,500 a month for his services. Although AMIA prosecutors knew who he was and that he sporadically visited Nisman's office, few people knew what exactly his function was inside Nisman's office.

"If you are looking at me for responsibility in the death, you're not looking for the truth," Lagomarsino told VICE News. "I made the mistake of giving him the gun, but I trust the justice system. They will prove that I'm innocent, and many of those who called me a murderer will have to apologize. At the moment, I'm concerned about the future."

After months of accusations and varying hypotheses, the country is still trying to figure out what happened to Nisman.

It is yet to be determined whether or not his death was a suicide, or an "induced suicide," as some senators claim, including the justice secretary Julian Álvarez.

Or if it was a Mossad operation, as some Kirchner loyalists have suggested. Or if there was participation by a Venezuelan commando coordinated by Argentine army chief Cesar Milani, as Eduardo Van Der Kooy, editor of the opposition newspaper Clarin, has suggested. Or if it was an Iranian operation, as the Israeli intelligence service Debka Files has claimed. Or if it was a passion crime, as Kirchnerist senator Cabral said.

As with the investigation into the AMIA bombings, which consumed the last decade of Nisman's life, the responsible parties seem far from being determined. Both cases will be battled as presidential elections loom in October.

Related: The Secret Deal at the Heart of the Nisman Accusations Against Argentina's Government: Fact or Fiction?

Follow Gaston Cavanagh on Twitter @GastonCavanagh.

Tagged:
VICE News
Alberto Nisman
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Kirchner
AMIA
Buenos Aires
anibal fernandez
diego lagomarsino
amia center attack
salvador cabral