Argentine president: Death of prosecutor in bombing case likely murder, not suicide

Argentine President Mauricio Macri talks about new poverty numbers released by the National Institute of Statistics and Census, INDEC, during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Sept. 28.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri talks about new poverty numbers released by the National Institute of Statistics and Census, INDEC, during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Sept. 28. AP

Argentine President Mauricio Macri said he suspects that late prosecutor Alberto Nisman — who died mysteriously in 2015 when he was about to testify about former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s alleged efforts to cover up Iran’s ties to a 1994 terrorist bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina — was murdered, and did not commit suicide as originally reported.

Macri said in an interview with the Miami Herald and CNN en Español — to be aired in two parts starting Sunday — that “it's hard to believe that Nisman committed suicide. There are too many situations, indications, realities of those hours, those days, that don't match with a suicide."

Nisman's body was found drenched in blood at his apartment on Jan. 18, 2015, a day before he was to testify in Congress about his investigation concluding that former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had signed a deal with Iran aimed at covering up Iran's ties to the attack against the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. Nisman's death was initially labeled as a probable suicide.

Asked whether he has inside information from intelligence agencies to suspect that Nisman was killed, Macri said that he reached that conclusion "by using common sense. I add, analyze, see, evaluate how the prosecutor acted, what it is that he was doing, and then I say, "This [a suicide] doesn't make sense."

Macri said that "a definitive investigation" is needed to find out how Nisman died, following numerous reports that the original investigation was botched. He added that he wants Argentina's justice system to carry out a probe with total independence.

"I want to generate the conditions, which I think I'm doing, to allow our justice system to freely investigate what really happened. I hope that, within a few months, we will be able to know what really happened," he said.

Macri's statement came shortly after a Sept. 24 report in the daily Clarin quoting former top Kirchner government spying agency official Jaime Stiuso as saying that Iranian and Venezuelan agents — with the protection of Kirchner government supporters — had killed Nisman. Stiuso made the statements in a sealed court testimony in February, the newspaper said.

The investigation into Nisman's death is now likely to be taken over by a federal court. Macri said that he will be "very respectful of the independence" of the judicial power, and that he won't interfere in the investigation.

Macri also rejected speculation in the media that he does not want prosecutors to send former president Fernandez de Kirchner to jail, for fear of igniting massive protests from her supporters. He said the justice system will decide.

"I don't believe in an Argentina guided by revenge, by rancor. I believe in an Argentina that's focused on the future, and not on persecuting the past."

Asked how he intends to bring Argentina's economy back to life after several years of slow growth and recession, Macri said that he will focus on re-establishing business confidence.

Argentina is winning domestic and international credibility in part by appointing independent Supreme Court justices, restoring the independence of the Central Bank and eliminating government interference in the national INDEC statistics agency, he said. Under the Fernandez government, Argentina's INDEC was widely known for routinely tampering with economic growth and poverty statistics to make her government look better.

The president asserted that Argentina's rising poverty rates — which have continued to grow since Macri took office in December and are now at 32 percent — will be used as a starting point to bring the number down substantially during the remainder of his presidency.

"That will be the key number we will use to measure ourselves," Macri said about his government. "If we don't reduce poverty by the end of our term in 2019, our government will have failed."

Macri also lashed out against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for not allowing a constitutionally-sanctioned recall referendum this year. Under Venezuelan law, if the referendum is not held this year, Maduro's vice-president could serve until the end of his term in 2019.

"The stumbling blocks placed by the Maduro government on the referendum are more evidence of its lack of adherence to democracy," Macri said.

"Representing the Argentine people, I ask for the right of the Venezuelan people to express themselves again in the ballot box and decide what future they desire," Macri said. "They have a right to carry out a referendum, and the obstacles that have been invented by the government are unacceptable."

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Watch “Oppenheimer Presenta” Sundays at 9 p.m. on CNN en Español