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New Argentine Prosecutor Wants to Get to Bottom of Amia Bombing

October 15, 2004
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The trial of five Argentines accused of complicity in the 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires’ main Jewish community center ended in their acquittal, but the investigation into the attack is continuing. A new department — the Anti-Terrorist Fiscal Unity — is expected to begin investigating the case by the end of October. Its offices close to the main Palace of Justice building are being painted, and bureaucratic arrangements are being finalized for the department’s 26 employees.

The prosecutor in charge of the new department, Alberto Nisman, showed enthusiasm and high expectations in an interview with JTA.

“When time passes, truth escapes. But it’s also true that the passage of time sometimes makes state and national structures more flexible,” said Nisman, who is Jewish.

The attorney general’s appointment of the 40-year-old prosecutor — made a few months ago, even before the trial of the suspected accomplices was over — is being taken as a sign of President Nestor Kirchner’s determination to get to the bottom of the AMIA bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded 300. Kirchner also opened secret state security files, gave security agents permission to testify in the case and agreed to fund the new office.

Nisman will work closely with Argentine intelligence services and a Special Investigations unit of the Justice Department on the AMIA case. His findings will be reported to the new judge in charge of the case, Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, since former investigative judge Juan Jose Galeano was dropped for misconduct such as bribing a witness — and may soon face a political trial himself.

“We will have to start from zero, contending with the conclusions of the oral trial,” said Nisman, who formerly was a prosecutor in Buenos Aires province and who has been involved in the AMIA case since 2000.

Nisman was the trial prosecutor at the oral trial of a car mechanic and four former police officers accused of being accomplices to the attack. They were acquitted in September after a 10-year investigation that included a three-year trial.

The few certainties left after that trial are that a car was used to bomb the AMIA building and that at some point it passed through the hands of mechanic Carlos Telleldin.

“Who owned the van? What happened around a cellular phone taken at the ‘Triple Border’ of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil between July 1 and July 18?” Nisman asked. “That phone mostly received calls from AMIA public telephone cabins, and was not investigated.”

According to Nisman, Galeano did not follow those tracks.

Nisman denounced Galeano for irregularities at the Magistracy Council last January. Last week, in his new post as prosecutor in charge of all cases related to the bombing, Nisman accused Galeano and a former state intelligence secretary, Hugo Anzorreguy, of eight crimes, including incitement to false testimony, embezzlement and perverting the course of justice.

Along with another prosecutor, Carlos Cearras, Nisman demanded that they be interrogated.

Galeano is said to be close to being politically indicted — a move that could result not in a jail term but in his removal from office — for irregularities in the AMIA investigation.

According to Argentine intelligence services, Galeano also has received a death sentence from the highest Iranian religious court.

The Iranian edict came after January 2003, when Galeano demanded the extradition of four Iranian officials.

Intelligence investigations in early 2003 found that Iran and Hezbollah, the fundamentalist Shiite militia that it backs, were involved in the bombing. Galeano demanded that four Iranians be extradited — not the 28 that Nisman was demanding.

“I believe there was an Iranian decision, taken at the Iranian Supreme Court in August 1993, to carry out the attack,” Nisman told JTA. “There is a terrorist state responsible, and it is Iran.”

Nisman says more attention should be paid to Moshen Rabbani, a former Iranian cultural attache in Buenos Aires who some investigators believe was the operational director of the attack.

If Nisman’s investigative team succeeds, international help may be needed to carry out extraditions. This week, however, Interpol’s Judiciary Affairs Office suspended international arrest warrants against 12 Iranians, including Rabbani.

Interpol said it was waiting to see if the irregularities committed during the AMIA investigation would affect the Iranians. Argentine judicial officials are preparing to ask Interpol to keep the arrest warrants valid.

In recent weeks, protection has been doubled around Nisman after he received an anonymous threat against himself, his wife and his four-year-old daughter.

Not all those affected by the AMIA case have such faith in Nisman.

Diana Malamud, of the victims’ relatives’ group Memoria Activa, told JTA, “Nisman has been changing from one side to another. He was close to Galeano and the former prosecutors” — who also were dismissed from the case for irregularities — “but he lately moved out from that place.

“I do not trust or have expectations in Nisman,” she continued. “I hope he shows me I’m wrong.”

Malamud’s husband Andres, the architect leading renovations of the AMIA building, was killed in the attack.

Nisman responded that he had no choice but to work with Galeano and the prosecutors when he was assigned to the case, but spoke out as soon as he had the chance.

When the court decided to remove the former prosecutors, part of their argument was based on Nisman’s statements.

Nisman says he is especially committed to the AMIA investigation.

“Of course this case touches me with the aggravating factor that it was an attack against the biggest local Jewish community,” he said.

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