Alberto Nisman .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A high-ranking legal official in Argentina has rekindled hope for justice regarding the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, a Jewish prosecutor who had been investigating the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
Nisman was found in the bathroom of his high-rise apartment on January 18, 2015, with a bullet wound to the head. The positioning of the gun and other details seemed to point to suicide. Nisman was, however, said to be in good spirits in the days leading up to his demise.
In addition, the death occurred a day before he was to testify before Argentina’s Congress about his accusations that then-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had obstructed his probe of the community-center bombing.
Days before that, he had accused the president of conspiring with Iran to cover up its role in the attack.
In the 400 days since Nisman’s body was found, a combination of political corruption, infighting among branches of the judiciary and incompetence has stymied investigations.
Last week, however, prosecutor Ricardo Sáenz came forward with an 11-page legal brief submitted to Argentina’s national criminal appellate court in which he states that “there is no doubt that Alberto Nisman was not the one who fired the gun that killed him, which necessarily leads to the conclusion that he was the victim of a homicide.”
The brief, which aims to persuade the court to transfer the investigation into Nisman’s death from a local to a federal court, is significant on a number of levels.
This is the first time anyone of any clout in the legal system has made a formal statement rejecting the suicide hypothesis. Nisman’s former domestic partner, Sandra Arroyo Salgado, herself a federal judge, has argued all along that Nisman’s death was a political assassination.
More important, if the case is transferred to a federal court where Nisman’s colleagues would be in charge of probing his death, there is more of a chance that a thorough, honest investigation will be carried out. In contrast, the local law enforcement services and legal system are seen as incompetent and corrupt. Charges could conceivably be brought against Kirchner and others connected with the former government.
The timing of Sáenz’s decision to file a legal brief seems to be connected to political changes in Argentina’s leadership. Indeed, it is a credit to newly elected President Mauricio Macri and to the forces of normalization in Argentina that Sáenz has come forward.
Macri, who has strong ties with Argentina’s Jewish community, pledged to illuminate the mystery of Nisman’s death. After taking office in December, he met with Salgado and Nisman’s two daughters.
A number of questions remain. Why was no gunpowder found on Nisman’s hand? What should be made of testimony that Nisman’s body was moved before a proper investigation could be conducted and that it took 11 hours from the time Nisman stopped answering his phone until police were brought into his apartment? Why is it that his apartment seems to have been wiped of fingerprints? Getting to the bottom of Nisman’s death is not just about justice for Nisman. It is not even about solving the bombing of the Jewish community center, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 300. It is about redeeming Argentina’s corrupt political system.
If Argentina’s political leaders and judicial system can bring Nisman’s murderers to justice – assuming he was indeed murdered – there is hope that Argentina will realize its true potential as an economic and cultural powerhouse.
If, on the other hand, the Nisman case and the investigation in the 1994 bombing remain obscured by a paralyzed legal system and an irredeemably corrupt political system, the unrealized potential of Argentina that Argentineans so often lament will remain out of reach.
The Macri government faces formidable challenges in reversing the legacy of more than a decade of Kirchnerism. But few challenges are more formidable than overcoming the forces that have prevented clarity and justice in the Nisman case and in the Jewish community bombing.