Argentina President Expresses What Could Be a Warning Against Prosecutor of a Former President, Cristina Kirchner

Fernandez is seen as deepening fissures in the country as the case against a predecessor is brought to a head.

AP/Natacha Pisarenko, pool
Vice President Cristina Kirchner attends a session of Congress at Buenos Aires, March 1, 2021. AP/Natacha Pisarenko, pool

Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernandez, in an interview with the television channel TN, accused the prosecutor in a corruption case against a former president, Cristina Kirchner, of sputtering “endless legal nonsense.”

More ominously, the president expressed the hope that the prosecutor, Diego Luciani, “doesn’t do the same” as a former prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, who seven years ago was found shot to death shortly before he was to brief the Argentine legislature on corruption in the government.

“What happened is that Nisman killed himself,” Mr. Fernandez said of the former investigating prosecutor, adding, “I hope prosecutor Luciani doesn’t do the same.” This is considered a foreboding reference because it is widely believed that Nisman’s death was not a suicide but that he was killed.

Nisman was discovered in January 2015 with a bullet to the head in a bathroom of his apartment the day before he was set to present his findings to the Buenos Aires congress. 

Mr. Luciani is the chief prosecutor in a corruption trial against Mrs. Kirchner. In his summations on Monday, he asked for conviction and a 12- year prison sentence against Mrs. Kirchner, whose family has ruled Argentina for most of the last two decades.

The sensational trial has exposed the political divisions in the country, and Mr. Fernandez’s foreboding reference is deepening these fissures, as it touched a raw nerve that has stirred Argentinian debates for half a decade. 

Alberto Nisman was chief prosecutor in the investigation into a 1994 car bombing of the Jewish center in Argentina, known as AMIA. He gathered evidence that Mrs. Kirchner and her husband, a former president, were involved in covering up Iran’s role in the terrorist attack. 

Nisman’s death caused an international stir, with people worldwide speculating about who was behind the removal of the prosecutor. In Argentina, protesters flooded the streets, with residents demanding justice and an uncovering of the truth. 

Until 2017, the government called the Nisman death a suicide. That conclusion was later dismissed in a report issued by the national guard, which concluded two people killed the prosecutor.

“I doubt he killed himself,” Mr. Fernandez said in a 2017 interview for a Netflix documentary about Nisman’s death. Yet, now he has apparently changed his mind.  

“The most accepted and reasonable assumption has always been that prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered,” a former Israeli diplomat in Argentina, Daniel Carmon, told the Sun. Mr. Carmon survived the first Iran-related terrorist bombing at Buenos Aires, which destroyed the Israeli embassy in 1992. He lost his wife and was himself wounded.

“I met Nisman several times,” Mr. Carmon said. “He was a top professional and a hero, whose brave AMIA investigation conclusions were crucial. A recent Mossad investigation confirms Iran’s central role in the two bombings. I just don’t understand what would motivate Fernandez to resurrect this tragedy, other than politics.”

While officially the case remains unresolved, Argentines have widely assumed that Nisman was killed by Iranian agents, rogue intelligence officers, Mrs. Kirchner’s aides, or all of the above.

On Monday morning, Mr. Luciani called for a 12-year prison sentence for Mrs. Kirchner, now the country’s vice president, for her alleged lead role in a scheme to take money from the state coffers and award it to a friend of the Kirchners, Lazaro Baez, in the form of public contracts.

Baez has been in jail since 2021, after his conviction on a money laundering scheme related to his role as the head of the project. Mr. Luciani also asked the judges for Mrs. Kirchner to be banned from holding public office in the future. 

“We are faced with the biggest corruption maneuver that this country has ever known,” Mr. Luciani said during the webcast trial. “Society is calling for justice. Judges, now is the time. It’s either corruption or justice.” 

Following Mr. Luciani’s call for a 12-year sentence, lawyers for Mrs. Kirchner requested an extension, so she could testify on her own behalf. The motion was denied. 

Since Tuesday, Mrs. Kirchner has been active on Twitter, questioning the judges and accusing rivals of corrupting the legal system. “My sentence was already written,” one of her tweets read. 

Mr. Fernandez, together with the leaders of Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia, issued a joint statement rejecting the “unjustifiable judicial persecution” of Argentina’s vice president. 

“We express our strongest support to Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and strongly condemn the strategies of judicial persecution to eliminate political opponents,” the statement says. 

The case will now go to the Criminal Court of Appeal and later to the Supreme Court. Argentinian lawyers say that Mrs. Kirchner’s sentence will likely be issued before the end of the year. In the meantime, Argentinians consider Mr. Luciani’s sentencing request a victory, calling it a “historic day” for the country. 

A prominent Argentinian economist, Roberto Garcia Moritan, tweeted that “justice for the Argentinian people is Cristina Kirchner and her illegal association behind bars and away from power.”

Mrs. Kirchner was president of Argentina between 2007 and 2015, a role she assumed after the death of her husband, Nestor, who became president in 2003. Throughout the past decade, she has been investigated for about a dozen alleged crimes, including the one Nisman was investigating. 

Argentinians were disturbed by Mr. Fernandez’s comments. An opposition right-wing party, Juntos por el Cambio, released a statement urging protection for judges and prosecutors. 

“We demand that the national government absolutely guarantees the physical integrity of the judges and prosecutors who are carrying out the case involving the vice president,” the statement says. “In Argentina there can be no more impunity or more deaths for political, ideological reasons or for wanting to seek the legitimate desire for truth and justice.”

The party announced that it would initiate legal actions against the president, for “instigation of suicide and threat of mafia murder against Prosecutor Luciani.”

The New York Sun

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