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Days Before Dying, Prosecutor Accusing Argentina's President of Cover-Up Told Us His 'Proof Is Strong’

VICE News spoke to Alberto Nisman the day after he publicly accused President Kirchner of a cover-up to protect Iranian officials from possible charges over a Jewish center bombing in 1994. Two days later, he was found dead.

by Gaston Cavanagh
Jan 23 2015, 12:55am

Photo by Rodrigo Abd/AP

"I am preparing everything for Monday," the Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, 51, told VICE News two days before his death.

"I want to arrive to the commission in Congress to explain and expand my claim against President Cristina [Fernandez de] Kirchner for covering up Iran's responsibility for the attack on the Argentine Israeli Mutual Association, in which 85 people were killed in 1994."

VICE News spoke with Nisman last Friday, just two days before he was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his apartment in an upscale waterfront district of Buenos Aires.

Over the phone, he sounded enthusiastic and very focused on the presentation he never got around to delivering. He didn't sound like a man preparing to die.

"The proof is strong," Nisman told me, in what may have been the last interview he gave to a foreign news organization.

Before dying, the special prosecutor in the case of the 1994 AIMA center bombing in Buenos Aires accused President Fernandez de Kirchner and her foreign minister Hector Timerman of leading a plot to cover up what Nisman called Iran's central role in carrying out the worst terrorist attack in Argentina's history.

The deal was allegedly made to avoid international charges against Iranian officials over the attack against the Jewish center. In the plot, Nisman said, phone calls between the Iranians and Kirchner's government discussed a plan in which Argentina would send grain to Iran, and Iran would repay the favor with oil.

The accusation became public on Thursday, when the prosecutor filed his charges to a judge. Nisman was preparing to make the blockbuster claim before Argentina's Congress on Monday.

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Argentines took to the streets of Buenos Aires to call for justice for Alberto Nisman on Monday, January 19. (Photo by Gisela Perez de Acha)

His death has shaken the country. Perplexed citizens this week were unable to accept Nisman's death as a suicide or an accident, sparking demonstrations calling for justice for the prosecutor, who first took up the AIMA bombing case in 2004, after years of previous investigations that fell apart or failed.

Fernandez de Kirchner, who was elected to a second term as president of Argentina in 2011, rushed on Monday to embrace the theory of suicide in Nisman's death, publishing an elaborate essay about the topic on her Facebook page.

But by Thursday, Kirchner made an about-face, saying she was now convinced that Nisman's death could not have been suicide.

'I don't gain any pleasure from accusing the president of a cover-up.'

Meanwhile, her security minister Sergio Berni, a tough-on-crime cop who featured prominently in a 2014 VICE News documentary, began facing uncomfortable questions from opposition politicians about his role at the scene of Nisman's death when he arrived there.

Even the matter of who found Nisman first is now under question, as Berni offered conflicting details before the news media and in statements about his arrival to Nisman's apartment after midnight. By then, a private doctor, paramedics, a lead investigator, and the prosecutor's mother had all entered the flat, which was only opened up at about 10:00 pm — more than ten hours after Nisman did not respond to calls at his door from his security detail.

Nisman had excused his government-appointed bodyguards that Friday and asked them to return on Sunday at 11:30 am, although it's not clear why. When he didn't answer Sunday morning, the security detail spent hours, inexplicably, waiting for Nisman to emerge. Then they called his mother for help.

Authorities said Nisman was found lying on his side in his bathroom, with a .22-caliber Bersa handgun under one side of his head, in a pool of blood. The casing of the bullet that killed him was found besides his body. The bullet was still in his head. He didn't leave a suicide note, but did leave a shopping list for his house cleaner, officials said.

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Berni's hurried arrival to the scene of Nisman's death naturally awoke suspicions, as he is an ardent Kirchner loyalist. In a statement, he said that he was there to supervise the crime scene and make sure protocol was followed.

"I didn't enter the bathroom and didn't let anyone else enter," Berni told a television interviewer.

Unconvinced, opposition leaders are asking that Berni publicly declare before the Congress about Nisman's death.

On Saturday afternoon, the day before he was found dead, Nisman had sent a photo from his phone to Waldo Wolf, vice president of a Jewish association in Argentina, proudly displaying a table crowded with documents related to the AIMA case that he was going to present to Congress that Monday. 

Nisman was the registered owner of two guns, but neither of those were at the crime scene. Instead, Buenos Aires police say the weapon that likely killed him was one a friend had lent him. But the provincial police department also said this week that initial studies showed no gunpowder residue was found on Nisman's body, complicating any suicide theory.

"I don't gain any pleasure from accusing the president of the republic of a cover-up," Nisman told VICE News on Jan. 16. "And even less regarding a topic like this, for the institutional damage it causes the country."

But, he insisted: "Cristina Kirchner is who gave the directives [for a cover-up]. Everything is proven."

Watch the VICE News documentary Rosario: Violence, Drugs, and Football.

Follow Gaston Cavanagh on Twitter @gastoncavanagh.