BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — President Cristina Fernandez made an about-face Thursday, saying she now is “convinced” prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death was not a suicide just days after she suggested the man who accused her of protecting Iranians charged in Argentina’s worst terrorist attack had killed himself.
In a letter published on social media sites, Fernandez said questions about Nisman’s death “have been converted into certainty. The suicide (I’m convinced) was not a suicide.”
The 51-year-old Nisman was found slumped in the bathroom of his apartment late Sunday with a bullet wound in his head. He was lying next to a .22-caliber handgun and a bullet casing.
The death came days after Nisman gave a judge a 289-page report alleging Fernandez secretly reached a deal to prevent prosecution of former Iranian officials accused of involvement in the 1994 car bombing of Argentina’s largest Jewish center, an attack that killed 85 people and injured more than 200.
His death has rocked Argentina, with polls saying a majority of people reject the idea that Nisman killed himself only hours before he was scheduled to detail his allegations before congress.
Fernandez’s letter contrasts with one she wrote Monday in which she appeared to support the initial finding of suicide, and political analysts said her flip-flop could provoke further turmoil and cast doubt on the investigation’s independence.
“Most of the time, in the Western world, we would say, ‘It’s under investigation,'” said James Cooper, professor at California Western School of Law and an expert on legal reform in Latin America. “Now Cristina came out with this. All the rules are turned on their head.”
Fernandez’s new statements set off a round of questions and sharp criticism from opposition leaders.
“What has happened in the last 72 hours for them to change so completely their position?” opposition Sen. Ernesto Sanz told radio La Once Diez.
In her letter, Fernandez dismissed Nisman’s allegations of a cover-up and said he had been given false information about alleged Iranian spies from Antonio “Jaime” Stiusso, the former operations director of the Secretariat of Intelligence who recently was replaced. She said Nisman had been caught up in internal power struggles in the intelligence community.
Nisman “was used alive and afterwards they needed him dead,” she wrote without specifying who she thought did it. “It’s sad and terrible.”
Viviana Fein, the lead investigator, declined to comment on the president’s comments.
“This isn’t just one more case,” she told reporters before beginning a day of closed-door interviews related to the investigation. “This is a case of institutional gravity and everybody wants to know what happened, including me.”
Nisman’s mother, Sara Garfunkel, was one of the people to speak to Fein on Thursday. Fein said afterwards that Garfunkel said Nisman’s door had two locks and she had opened the one on top with her key. A locksmith was called to open the other lock.
The locksmith, who gave only a first name to reporters, Walter, said Wednesday that he had opened the door easily, fueling speculation that somebody could have broken into the house.
Fein said Thursday that Nisman likely died around noon Sunday, about 10 hours before his body was found.
Investigators said they also were looking into Diego Lagomarsino, a computer technician who worked with Nisman. Authorities said Lagmomarsino owned the gun used in Nisman’s death and he had given it to the prosecutor Saturday afternoon.
Lagomarsino was a frequent visitor to Nisman’s house, Fein said.
Within hours of the discovery of Nisman’s body, Fein had said the death appeared to be suicide and there were no indications anyone else was involved. She said the apartment’s door was locked from the inside and there were no signs it had been forced.
But family and friends of Nisman immediately rejected the finding and protesters took to the streets demanding justice for the prosecutor who had spent 10 years investigating the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center.
No suicide note was found and an initial test of Nisman’s hand showed no gunpowder residue, although Fein said that may have been due to the small caliber of the gun.
Nisman’s report accused Fernandez and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of reaching agreement with Iran to shield eight Iranians, including former senior officials, from prosecution for allegedly masterminding the attack in exchange for a lucrative deal to trade Argentine grains and meat for Iranian oil.
Nisman was appointed to his post in 2005 by then President Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’s late husband, after a bungled 10-year probe launched under Menem that led to a trial in which all of the defendants were found not guilty.
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