International Intrigue

Iran’s Man In Argentina Speaks On Prosecutor’s Mystery Death

Days before an arrest warrant for the president was found in Alberto Nisman’s trash, Iran’s diplomat in Buenos Aires denied any secret channels between his government and de Kirchner.

Marcos Brindicci/Reuters

BUENOS AIRES — Confusion reigns two weeks after the death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The judicial authorities still claim all indications lead to suicide, but it appears no one in Argentina believes this, not even President Cristina Kirchner herself, who flip-flopped between calling the death a suicide and a homicide in the first two days following his demise.

On Sunday, Viviana Fein, the prosecutor investigating Nisman’s “unnatural death,” announced that no documents had been found in his residence. On Monday, she was forced to backtrack, humiliatingly, in front of the media, when the Argentine broadsheet Clarín published images not only of documents, but of an arrest warrant Nisman had drafted that called for the detention of President Cristina Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, both of whom he accused of participating in a massive cover-up regarding Iran’s role in two terror attacks that rocked Buenos Aires in the early 1990s.

On Monday, Fein also issued the first report based on forensics. She said Nisman, who was left-handed, was shot 2 centimeters behind his right ear, the bullet angled downwards, with the bathroom door shut. Argentine observers, dripping with contempt, spent the day discussing Nisman’s talent as a contortionist. The autopsy results have yet to be released.

In Israel, a source close to military intelligence said Israel has “heavy suspicions” that Iran may be implicated in Nisman’s death. “We are sure there is a local connection, but we have significant concerns about Iran’s involvement,” the source said.

Iran has a rich history of perpetuating terror in Argentina. Days before dying, Nisman accused Argentine president Cristina Kirchner of trying to cover up Iran’s crimes by negotiating a secret memorandum to “cooperate on the investigation.” Argentine foreign minister Hector Timerman, who was also apparently implicated by Nisman, told NPR he was negotiating with Nisman because “the only way to move forward was to sign an agreement with Iran to allow the judge of Argentina to go to Tehran to interrogate the suspects”—where, under international law, they are fugitives, yet where an Argentine judge has no jurisdiction.

At the same time, Israeli sources familiar with Nisman’s investigation have assured The Daily Beast that there is “100 percent, no doubt” about Iran’s responsibility for the two terrorist events in Argentina—the 1992 explosion of the Israeli Embassy that killed 29 people, and the 1994 attack against a major Jewish communitarian organization, AMIA, that killed 85—attacks that Nisman had been investigating for the last 10 years of his life.

Irit Kohn, the former Director of International Division at the Israeli Ministry of Justice and currently the president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists told The Daily Beast that while she was attempting to piece together a case against those responsible for the embassy attack, “the Argentinians did everything possible to evade our requests. We already had it clear that the Iranians were involved. We had information about the Iranians—that it was basically one of their operations, and the Argentinians maneuvered not to bring us the materials we were asking for.”

Israeli sources interviewed for this article sought to emphasize the seriousness of Nisman’s accusations against Iran, underscoring that Interpol accepted the evidence he presented back in 2006 and issued red notices against six Iranian officials that stand even today.

One source said, “Look, Interpol clearly had enough information to justify the red notices. You need to be on very solid ground to deny someone his freedom. You have to feel confident about the information. We know that Imad Mughniyah got instructions directly from Iran. The Argentinians tried to blame the Syrians— and we said: ‘You guys just don’t get it.’ We said it was Hezbollah; they do everything in conjunction with Iran.”

Another unrelated Israeli source concurred, saying, “Alberto Nisman was a reliable prosecutor, a hard worker, a serious guy. We had absolutely no doubts about Iran. The intelligence demonstrates with 100 percent certainty that Iran was behind both Buenos Aires attacks, and not only organizationally.”

In an unusual attempt at outreach, Ahmad Reza Kheirmand, Iran’s chargé d’affaires in Buenos Aires (whose formal title is commercial attaché) agreed to answer a few questions via email, although he did not respond to comment on the news of the draft warrant for Kirchner’s arrest. His responses been edited for clarity.

What is your opinion of the case Nisman presented to the Argentine courts?

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First, I want to express my deep condolences to Nisman’s family. One thing I can say is that given that Iran and Argentina have had diplomatic relations for 110 years and both resolve issues through their representatives, there is no secret backchannel. In addition, two foreign ministers with instructions from their presidents negotiated to resolve the problem. In other words, when the official, formal diplomatic channel works well, there is no need for a parallel channel.

Nisman based his accusation on the fact that part of the negotiation included a commercial agreement to trade Argentine grain for Iranian crude oil. Did either of you at any point contemplate enforcing this agreement?

No. Traditionally Argentina never imported oil from Iran due to the characteristics of our crude, which is not compatible with Argentine refineries. Regarding the commercial exchange, Iranian companies are in contact with international conglomerates for the acquisition of grains, and, unfortunately, the earnings from trade remains in the hands of the companies.

In Nisman’s indictment, Mohsen Rabbani [one of the Iranian officials subject to an Interpol extradition demand on terror charges] has the role of a protagonist in the negotiations. What is his role in the relations between Argentina and Iran?

Rabbani is a man of the religious and cultural world who is dedicated to the teaching of religious texts at a university in the city of Qom. He has no ties to the Executive and no authorization to meddle in executive matters.

What is your opinion of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Iran and Argentina?

The Islamic Republic of Iran has always condemned the AMIA attack and has offered its cooperation. The Memorandum’s aim was to cooperate with the Argentine state so as to arrive at the truth.

Is the Memorandum in effect in Iran?

In September, 2013, our Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, informed [Argentina’s] Foreign Minister, Héctor Timerman, that it is in effect according to the law of Iran. It is now paralyzed due to a decision of Argentine courts. [Argentina ratified the agreement; it was later declared unconstitutional by a federal court judge.]