The former director of operations at Argentina’s Secretariat of Intelligence, Antonio Stiuso, has become the most coveted witness in the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who died one day before testifying against that nation’s president before Congress. And just as the government’s interest in bringing Stiuso in for questioning reaches a fever pitch, the ex-spy has disappeared.
Investigators called on Stiuso to testify before the prosecution in the Nisman case on Thursday. He was known to have aided Nisman in the work for which he will be forever be inextricably linked: building a case against the government of Argentina regarding the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), in which 85 died. Nisman drafted a nearly 300-page report in which he alleged that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner helped protect the terrorists responsible for the attack– believed to have ties to the Shiite terror group Hezbollah– in exchange for cheap Iranian oil and continued trade deals. In addition to the report, investigators found a draft arrest warrant at Nisman’s home for Fernández de Kirchner– something of a formality, as the President enjoys executive privilege.
Nisman was found dead with a gunshot wound in his forehead the day before he was to present his report to Congress.
Given Stiuso’s role in helping Nisman draft the report, he has become a pivotal character in the ongoing saga to determine who killed him. While investigators initially ruled the death a suicide, Fernández de Kirchner herself stated in a blog post that she believed Nisman had been killed. While not naming any individuals, she accused intelligence sources close to Nisman of orchestrating both the allegations against her and Nisman’s death in order to sully the reputation of her administration.
In order to ensure that Stiuso is free to answer all the prosecution’s questions fully, his successor, Oscar Parrilli, lifted limitations on intelligence officials regarding speaking publicly of secret government activity. Spies are typically sworn to secrecy on all their activities while working for the state.
Now that Stiuso is free to talk, he has disappeared. As Bloomberg reports, Stiuso has not received a summons to testify because no one can find him. His attorney, speaking to Argentine television, said, “I think he’s in the country but I’m not certain,” and assured listeners that Stiuso would testify when he was summoned. Bloomberg notes that Stiuso has three addresses and nearly 100 telephone numbers to his name, and intelligence officials have stated that none have led them to their man.
Stiuso’s disappearance is but the latest unexpected twist in the investigation into Nisman’s death. Argentine news outlet Infobae reported this week that Nisman’s ex-wife, a judge, had received a photograph of Nisman with a hole in his head via Whatsapp two days before he was found with a bullet wound in his head. As for Stiuso, he is even being accused of using his authority while running the Intelligence Secretariat to spy on Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, known today as Pope Francis.
What’s more, reports have surfaced that Stiuso first began to work on the AMIA case with Nisman at the behest of Fernández de Kircher’s predecessor and late husband, President Nestor Kirchner.
In December, shortly before being let go at the Intelligence Secretariat, Stiuso lamented in an interview that the government appeared to believe he was the source of many of its intelligence problems. “A meteorite falls and they blame me,” he told Noticias.