Argentina Probe Finds Prosecutor Alberto Nisman Was Murdered
BUENOS AIRES—Investigators here have concluded that prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered in 2015 hours before he was to testify in Congress against then-President Cristina Kirchner, according to people familiar with the investigators’ report, opening a new chapter in a mystery that has transfixed Argentina.
The report was submitted to a federal court on Friday. The probe is part of an effort to resolve a case that has become a milepost in a long history of unresolved, high-profile allegations against the country’s political elite. A police unit, the Gendarmerie, oversaw the investigation.
The report also presents a test for Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who has vowed to support the judicial system and give it the autonomy it needs to investigate controversial cases without interference from the executive branch.
Mr. Nisman died shortly before he was set to present his case in Congress alleging that Mrs. Kirchner had conspired with Iran to sabotage his investigation into the bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994. His body was found in his apartment bathroom on Jan. 18, 2015 after a bullet was fired into his head.
Mrs. Kirchner, who denied Mr. Nisman’s accusations of a coverup, first suggested he had committed suicide. She later indicated she had no doubt he had been murdered to smear her image. “The true operation against the government was the prosecutor’s death,” she said.
Twenty-eight government forensic experts, toiling at a secret facility for seven months, concluded this week that Mr. Nisman was killed, people familiar with the report told The Wall Street Journal.
The experts studied bloodstain patterns, gunpowder residue tests, crime-scene photos and other evidence, and carried out tests in a full-scale mock-up of Mr. Nisman’s bathroom, according to the people familiar with the findings.
The Gendarmerie said Friday that investigators had handed the report to a federal court. A federal prosecutor and federal judge must now evaluate the report and could order additional measures to try to establish who might have killed Mr. Nisman.
A previous inquiry into Mr. Nisman’s death, led by a low-ranking government investigator who was eventually removed from the case, failed to clarify the matter.
“We should stop debating if this was a suicide and be clear that we have sufficient reason to believe it was murder,” said Ricardo Saenz, a prosecutor who wasn’t involved in the new investigation. “He was killed because of the work he was doing.”
Argentine officials expressed caution over the report, noting that the judicial branch needs to proceed independently. “We have to be super prudent with this,” Marcos Peña, Mr. Macri’s cabinet chief, said Thursday. “We have to wait for the courts to determine what happened and see if they confirm this line of investigation.”
No one has been convicted in the case that for years obsessed Mr. Nisman: the July 18, 1994 car bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people.
According to people familiar with the Gendarmerie report, investigators assert that Mr. Nisman was sedated with the anesthetic Ketamine and then killed by two assailants in his Buenos Aires apartment.
Mr. Nisman had sustained blows to his head, kidney, nose and leg, indicating that he had been struck before dying, investigators said, according to a forensic expert familiar with the findings. Such bruises are inconsistent with a self-inflicted suicide wound, the expert said.
The investigators found that Mr. Nisman’s hand showed no signs of gunpowder residue, and tests done on the .22-caliber Bersa pistol that fired the bullet into his head showed that it leaves residue when discharged. The conclusion, investigators said, is that Mr. Nisman didn’t pull the trigger, people familiar with the report said.
Days before his death, Mr. Nisman filed a criminal claim accusing Mrs. Kirchner and others of secretly negotiating a deal with Tehran to offer immunity for Iranian suspects of the Jewish-center bombing in exchange for Iranian oil.
Mrs. Kirchner said the allegations were part of a broad international conspiracy to undermine her presidency. Her government said it had been in talks with Iran to create a commission aimed at clarifying who was responsible for the bombing.
Mrs. Kirchner’s presidential term ended in December 2015. She is currently campaigning for a seat in Argentina’s Senate.
After Mr. Nisman’s death, two federal courts overruled requests from prosecutors to investigate Mr. Nisman’s allegations of a coverup, saying there was no evidence a crime had been committed. Another federal court has said it is now investigating the allegations.
Mr. Nisman had claimed that Hezbollah agents, working with Iran, chose Argentina because it was a soft target with a large Jewish community. In 2006, Mr. Nisman and another prosecutor filed charges against Iran’s then-president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, four top ministers and three former Iranian Embassy officials in Argentina. Interpol issued notices for the arrest of the Iranian suspects.
Iran has denied responsibility for the attack, as has Hezbollah, and no one has been convicted.
In 2015, shortly before his death, Mr. Nisman said he had inadvertently uncovered evidence of what he called a coverup. He said he had years of intercepted phone calls—which he included with a criminal complaint filed shortly before his death—that he said provided “a great deal of evidence” for “a plan to illegally aid and fraudulently and definitively exonerate the Iranian suspects.”