Former Interpol Chief Says Argentina Bungled Investigation of ’94 Attack
BUENOS AIRES — A former chief of Interpol says that Argentina bungled the investigation into a 1994 terrorist attack at a Jewish community center, a crime that has newly roiled the country’s political establishment.
The crime has never been formally solved. In 2015, a special prosecutor concluded that it was likely that Argentine officials had colluded with Iran to cover up that country’s role in the attack, which killed 85 people.
But the prosecutor died in mysterious circumstances, and last week, a federal judge requested that a former president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, be arrested and charged with treason, saying she had taken part in the cover-up.
The judge made another startling claim: He asserted that Ronald K. Noble, an American and a former New York University law professor who led the International Criminal Police Organization, known as Interpol, from 2000 to 2014, was in on the cover-up.
This week, Mr. Noble, vehemently rejected that claim, accusing the judge, Claudio Bonadio, of bringing forward a poorly investigated case. Mr. Noble said he was baffled that Judge Bonadio did not bother to track him down before accusing him in a criminal proceeding of abetting a secret deal to get international fugitive records, known as red notices, rescinded as part of an effort to mend ties between Argentina and Iran.
“I was surprised that Judge Bonadio could have been so biased and issue a false, misleading and incomplete report,” Mr. Noble said in a series of email exchanges this week.
Mr. Noble’s rebuke is the latest twist in a yearslong quest to ascertain who was responsible for the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association community center, known as the AMIA for the initials of its name in Spanish. The bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history.
Judge Bonadio on Dec. 7 took the rare step of calling for the detention of Mrs. Kirchner, who was recently sworn in as a senator, calling her supposed effort to shield Iranians from facing justice a high crime.
Mrs. Kirchner and the other defendants appealed the ruling this week and are set to return to court on Tuesday for a hearing before a higher court.
Mr. Noble said he was stunned by how badly Argentine judicial officials had bungled the investigation into the bombing.
“There has never been a case at Interpol with the kind of investigative, prosecutorial and judicial problems that have allowed a murderous terrorist attack where 85 persons were killed and many more wounded more than 20 years ago to go unpunished,” he said.
Since the ruling was issued, Judge Bonadio has come under attack from all sides of the political spectrum. Experts and politicians have questioned the strength of the evidence underpinning the accusation and suggested that it may have been politically motivated.
Judge Bonadio did not respond to a request for comment.
He is not the first to implicate Interpol in a cover-up in the bombing case. Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the bombing, made a similar allegation against Mrs. Kirchner shortly before he died under mysterious circumstances in January 2015. Mr. Nisman alleged that the Argentine government asked Interpol to pull red notices filed against Iranians as part of a deal that sought to expand commerce between the nations.
An investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death is continuing.
“There is no evidence to support Judge Bonadio’s conclusion that there existed some kind of secret agreement between Argentina and Interpol to remove the AMIA red notices,” Mr. Noble, 61, wrote. “If Judge Bonadio were interested in the truth, he could have contacted Interpol’s former general counsel.”
Judge Bonadio suggested in his ruling that Mr. Noble might have enabled Mrs. Kirchner because the former Interpol chief had a “close relationship” with former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, who was also charged with treason in the case last week. Mr. Timerman, who is undergoing cancer treatment, is under house arrest.
Mr. Noble, a New Jersey native who after leaving Interpol now works as a security consultant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, denies he had anything beyond “a very good professional relationship” with Mr. Timerman.
Adding to the intrigue surrounding the bombing investigation, the Argentine press earlier this week published a Nov. 4 letter from Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to his Argentine counterpart, in which Mr. Zarif confirmed that the two countries had, in fact, asked Interpol to pull red notices linked to the AMIA case. The Argentine Foreign Ministry confirmed the authenticity of the letter.
Mr. Noble called the account in the letter “a complete lie.”
Legal experts said that Judge Bonadio had overreached in calling for Mrs. Kirchner’s detention. Lifting the legislative immunity she enjoys as a senator would require approval of two-thirds of senators present at a hearing to consider the matter.
“There is absolutely no element in the case that can justify anyone being remanded in custody,” said Andrés Gil Domínguez, a constitutional law professor at the University of Buenos Aires. “There is no flight risk and there is no reason to believe that they could hinder the investigations.”