“Nisman was killed by a group related to the former government,” the former head of Argentina’s intelligence agency reportedly testified this week, squarely blaming former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her allies for killing a high-profile prosecutor investigating the Iranian government’s role in the nation’s worst terrorist attack ever.
Antonio Stiuso was appointed head of Argentina’s Secretariat of Intelligence (SIDE) by former President Kirchner, before being dramatically removed from the position upon Kirchner’s decision to dismantle the agency entirely. He worked closely with Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor in charge of investigating the 1994 bombing of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) and received four calls from Nisman the day he was found dead in his apartment, lying in a pool of his own blood.
In a testimony to the judge in charge of the case, attended by a number of attorneys representing relevant parties, Stiuso alleged he believes Nisman was killed because of his work as a prosecutor. Nisman was found dead on January 18, 2015, the day before he was to testify before the Argentine legislature that he had found proof of a negotiation between Kirchner’s government and Iran, in which Kirchner had agreed to protect the perpetrators of the AMIA bombing. Found in Nisman’s apartment the night of his death was a draft arrest warrant for the president herself and her defense minister, Héctor Timerman.
The AMIA bombing killed 85 people and is the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the Western Hemisphere before the events of September 11, 2001.
“Nisman’s death is tied to the charges he made,” Stiuso said in his deposition, according to an exclusive report by Argentine news outlet Infobae. The murderers, he claimed, “are a group related to the previous government, motivated by the accusations and they wanted to make it look like a suicide.” Stiuso noted that, in his testimony delivered shortly after Nisman’s death – and still during Kirchner’s tenure – he felt his assertions that Nisman was murdered by allies of the Iranian regime were disregarded.
Nisman was standing in the way of the leftist Argentine government striking a deal with Iran that would aid ally Venezuela, Stiuso contested. “They wanted to establish nuclear ties with Venezuela and Hugo Chávez had asked Néstor Kirchner to assist with the Iranian issue,” he added. Néstor, Cristina’s late husband, preceded her as president of Argentina.
“They wanted to simulate a suicide and they did it wrong,” he said. “The people that had to watch over Alberto failed,” he added. He noted that he first realized Nisman was in danger on a day that Nisman told him his smart phone had been erased due to the infiltration of a virus.
President Kirchner had previously cited Stiuso as a potential suspect in Nisman’s death, having publicly declared she did not believe Nisman had committed suicide. Stiuso went missing in February 2015, shortly after he delivered his initial testimony, and spent some time in the United States before returning following the election of popular conservative Mauricio Macri.
Those in attendance for Stiuso’s testimony have not confirmed the details laid out in the Infobae report, though the Buenos Aires Record notes it has received independent, off-the-record confirmations of the accuracy of the report. “All I can say is that the declaration took about 14 hours. It was not a cakewalk like it had been last time,” Juan Pablo Vigliero, an attorney representing Nisman’s ex-wife and daughters present at the testimony, stated.
Santiago Blanco Bermúdez, Stiuso’s attorney, clarified to reporters that his client’s testimony does not mean that he has any concrete proof of an assassination. “He has no direct proof. … What he is offering is his interpretation of the events and the motives that could have led to someone killing Nisman.”
In response to Stiuso’s testimony, Fabiana Palmaghini, the judge in charge of the cases, has recused herself, forcing the case to go to a federal court. The prosecutor in charge of the Nisman case, Ricardo Saenz, called earlier this week for the case to move to federal court, where it can be treated as a murder case. Saenz was appointed by current President Mauricio Macri’s administration to succeed Viviana Fein, the prosecutor in charge on the day Nisman’s body was found. Fein was repeatedly accused of promoting the suicide theory of Nisman’s death at the expense of disregarding key evidence. Palmaghini has filed a criminal complaint against Fein for disregarding key parts of Stiuso’s first testimony shortly after the death, which Fein is expected to contest.
The government of conservative President Macri has vowed to find the perpetrators of Nisman’s killing, with Macri making the Nisman case a key part of his presidential campaign and invalidating the Memorandum of Understanding Kirchner had signed with Iran on his first day in office. The Memorandum of Understanding gave the Iranian government, which Nisman alleged was directly involved in the AMIA bombing, significant control over the AMIA investigation.