CSI BUENOS AIRES

Who Murdered Alberto Nisman, the Prosecutor Investigating a President?

A new report shows there’s now no doubt Alberto Nisman was murdered in January 2015. Why did the Kirchner government claim it was a suicide? Was Tehran behind the killing?

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

What we now know is that the murder was a murder. Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman was the victim of a homicide—long covered up as a suicide—that took place sometime after 8 p.m. on the night of Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, in a Buenos Aires high-rise. But the more we know about the death of Alberto Nisman, the more we know we don’t know, and the more sinister appear the implications, because his death, at age 51, and the work to which he devoted the last decade of his life, are inextricably linked to the long, ugly history of terror and assassinations carried out by the Islamic Republic of Iran around the world.

Nisman was the Argentine special prosecutor whose sole mission was to bring to justice to the Iran-backed terror network that blew up a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994, killing 85 people and wounding hundreds. More than 20 years of fumbled investigations and political resistance had made that job almost impossible. Then, four days before he was found dead, Nisman announced publicly that the government of President Cristina Kirchner had forged a secret agreement with Iran that would effectively terminate efforts to bring the alleged killers and their sponsors to justice.

Nisman’s contorted body was found in the bathroom of his apartment with a bullet in his head, and the initial reports from government agencies and from President Kirchner, who appeared on live television to present her views regarding Nisman’s sudden death, deemed it a suicide. She left office in December 2015, and now a separate, exhaustive report by the country’s Gendarmaría Nacional, extensively covered in the Argentine press, removes any doubt that Nisman was murdered.

According to the report, Nisman was assaulted by two individuals, presumably both men. His nose was broken, his kidney bruised, and he had blows to his left ankle and the back of his head. The .22 caliber bullet travelled from right to left, back to front, bottom to top, at an angle of 10 to 12 degrees. The pattern of blood spattered in the bathroom indicates he was on his knees, not his feet, when he was shot. There was no powder residue found on his hands.

Moreover, the potent anesthetic ketamine, often used on animals and sometimes as a date-rape drug, had been used on him. The Gendarmería report notes that the ketamine had not been metabolized, meaning it was administered a very short time before Nisman’s death and therefore would not have been used for recreational purposes.

Nisman did not own a gun, but Diego Lagomarsino, a young IT guy who worked with him claimed after the death that had lent Nisman his pistol. Lagomarsino said Nisman explained he wanted a gun to protect his daughters, but at the time of his death both girls were vacationing in Europe. Although Nisman was under the protection of police bodyguards, he told friends and journalists he “could end up dead” as a result of his probe.

Lagomarsino has denied any involvement in Nisman’s death, and it appeared that Lagomarsino had a perfect alibi, having been photographed at a toll booth during what was initially the estimated time of Nisman’s death the morning of Sept. 18.

His bodyguards, in a best case scenario, negligently allowed the killers to enter Nisman’s building, and they refused to break down the door when a colleague of Nisman’s and then his mother came to his building worried about him because he wasn’t answering his phone.

The new report, pushing back the possible time of death to as early as 8 p.m. the night before, makes Lagomarsino’s alibi much less convincing.

What nobody believes is that Lagomarsino would have acted alone or on his own, which introduces the key question of a broader conspiracy: Were elements of the Kirchner government involved? Was Iran?

“It is important to note that the totality of the Gendarmería’s findings have not yet been made public,” a judicial source with close knowledge of the case told The Daily Beast. If it appears to have been a sloppy operation involving a lot of people, this source believes that would tend to suggest the work was not that of an Iranian hit team like the ones notorious for their ruthless efficiency in the 1980s and early 1990s, as detailed in our earlier reporting at The Daily Beast and on France 24. But, again, the full content of the new report is not known, and the faked suicide was good enough to stall the investigation for more than two years.

There are also disturbing similarities with some other cases, including the apparent suicide in Paris in 1990 of investigating magistrate Gilles Boulouque, who had led the investigation of Iranian-organized terror attacks in France over the previous decade only to be thwarted by a deal the French government cut with the mullahs to release a prime suspect operating out of Iran’s Paris embassy.

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One possibility is that powerful figures in Kirchner’s intelligence and security services were involved. A surprising number of them were monitored talking on the phone in the neighborhood where Nisman died; one of them reportedly was concerned that his wife not know he was near where the prosecutor lived.

They covered up for those responsible for the worst act of terror committed in the history of Argentina.

As the same judicial source told us (always on condition of anonymity) Lagomarsino may be nothing but a fall guy. “If they [the government] have thrown Lagomarsino under the bus, it would appear they are trying to hide something much, much bigger. They gave him an impeccable alibi for that night; he was filmed paying a toll on a road. So my educated question is: why is he the front for this?”

Gabriel Bracesco, a former crime reporter for Clarín, the mass market daily, and author of the book Suicided: The Assassination of Prosecutor Alberto Nisman says "the ‘latest revelations’ were first revealed in a report published by investigators working for Nisman's family one month after his death. So what we principally learn is that political ​authorities pressured ​the ​state​'s​ experts to hide clear ​evidence of murder.”

It is too late to find Nisman’s killers, according to Bracesco, who was at the scene of the crime the night Nisman was found, “but we still are in time to uncover who interceded to ​conceal and destroy evidence. These accusations​ ​may reach the highest levels of the Kirchner régime: Cristina K​irchner herself, her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, ​Sergio ​Berni​, who was head of intelligence.”

Ricardo Sáenz is a veteran Argentine federal prosecutor and the leader of a judicial movement to pursue the question of Nisman’s death. He is a wiry, stern, reserved man. He and Nisman were close friends. When Noga Tarnopolsky asked on the record in 2016 how he felt after this death of his colleague, he told her there had been some difficult moments and said one of those was when his kids asked him if he was also going to get killed himself.

Last week, he discussed the case with us:

What is new and significant now?

In terms of the revelations from the Gendarmería’s investigation, the blow that broke his nose, which is in an x-ray and is undeniable, is significant, as are the blows to his kidneys, in addition to what he already had suffered, like the blow to his head and to his left ankle, that are the sort of injuries intended to stun a person and vanquish his will. It’s certain he was kicked in the ankle to make him lose his balance. These revelations prove serious irregularities in the only autopsy that was conducted and in the subsequent investigations, where somehow these wounds were not detected.

The most serious development is establishing that his death was a homicide. I put that in writing in February 2016, a year and a half ago, and it has been my position and the family’s since then. This is the most serious examination of Nisman’s death, performed by an interdisciplinary panel, and it ratifies that we are talking about homicide. That, plus the fact it was perpetrated by two people.

Suspects?

In the first place Diego Lagomarsino, who until now was only accused of providing a weapon to an individual not licensed to possess it, which is a very minor charge. Now that we are dealing with homicide, the individual bringing the gun is transformed into a participant in murder, who will have to demonstrate that he was carrying a weapon he didn’t know would be used by another person to kill Nisman.

We always said his version was flimsy; his situation today as a suspect is very serious.

Regarding others, to be sure, all the Republic of Argentina’s security authorities who flooded Nisman’s apartment, who were already inside his residence before any judicial authority arrived, will have to be questioned and asked, among other things, why they didn’t secure the scene of the crime, by which I mean quite clearly the entire apartment. Instead, they filled it with people and decided to secure only the bathroom as a crime scene, when at that time it was far from proven that he’d been killed there. We have always known there is a possibility he was killed elsewhere, and traces or prints could have been found in the entire apartment.

What about Nisman’s own investigation?

Despite all the criticism against him, that he hadn’t done anything, the contrary is true. Nisman got seven Iranian citizens indicted for the crime, he got Interpol to issue red alerts and in addition, in the absence of the suspects, we still see an investigation that went as far as it could. It is important to note that in Argentina we have no such thing as a trial in absentia; with no suspect an investigation cannot move forward. Nisman did as much as could have been done. Any other implication is questionable and biased on its face.

No less significant, 2015, the last year of Nisman’s life, was a year in which the then-government did everything within its power to smear him (after his death) and undo his charges against it, which is the worst accusation weighing upon the previous government.

He charged that they covered up for those responsible for the worst act of terror committed in the history of Argentina, and that is as bad as it sounds. It is by far the worst accusation against them. Everything else you hear, the money, even in the millions—it is money (for corruption). But this, a crime in which 85 Argentine citizens were killed, this is the worst sort of impunity.