Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been acquitted in the case regarding the controversial Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and Iran, based on a denunciation by the late special AMIA prosecutor Alberto Nisman shortly before his own death.
On the basis of the non-existence of a crime, the court’s judges have thus closed Nisman’s denunciation for signing that Memorandum. The decision could be reviewed by the Federal Criminal Cassation Court if appealed by the prosecutor or the plaintiffs, DAIA Jewish umbrella grouping and the relatives of the victims of the 1994 terrorist bomb destruction of the AMIA Jewish community centre.
"The agreement with Iran, whether considered a political success or failure, does not constitute a crime," the court’s judges ruled.
Fernández de Kirchner, 68, was accused of obstructing an investigation into the 1994 bombing, in connection with the controversial deal her administration brokered with Tehran.
No-one has ever claimed responsibility for the deadly attack – which killed 85 people, wounded 300 and remains the deadliest in the country's history – but Israel has accused Tehran of sponsoring it, a position Nisman supported.
TOF (Tribunal Oral Federal) 8 court, consisting of the judges María Gabriela López Iñíguez, Daniel Obligado and José Michilini, also acquitted the other defendants in the case, including the late foreign minister Héctor Timerman at the request of his defence lawyers seeking to vindicate his memory.
Also acquitted were former deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain, Treasury Prosecutor Carlos Zannini, Senator Oscar Parrilli, former Treasury prosecutor Angelina Abbona, Deputy Justice Minister Juan Martín Mena, Buenos Aires provincial minister Andrés ‘Cuervo’ Larroque, picket leader Luis D’Elía, Quebracho leader Fernando Esteche, Jorge Khalil (a presumed middleman with Iran) and former intelligence agent Allan Bogado, according to the 387-page ruling to which the Télam state news agency had access.
‘Judicial and political scandal’
The Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2013, with the endorsement of Argentina’s Congress. However, it was never fully ratified by lawmakers in Tehran and therefore did not enter into effect.
The indictment against the former president was originally lodged by Nisman, who accused Fernández de Kirchner of trying to arrange a deal to clear Iranian officials in exchange for oil and trade benefits, basing his accusations on hundreds of hours of wiretaps.
But just before he was due to present his findings to Congress in January 2015, Nisman was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment in Buenos Aires with a bullet through his head. The debate over whether it was murder or suicide continues to this day.
Addressing the court back in July, earlier this year, Fernández de Kirchner called for the case to be quashed, calling it "a judicial and political scandal" and attributing it "the persecution of political opponents of the Mauricio Macri government," a reference to the administration of successor in office from 2015 to 2019.
Thursday’s ruling lent some weight to the defence’s claims of judicial impartiality in earlier court proceedings.
“It remains beyond any doubt that the presidential visits of judges Gustavo Hornos and Mariano Borinsky affected the impartiality and independence of the natural judge,” reads the court ruling, referring to magistrates who were previously involved in the case.
Hornos and Borinsky signed the ruling to reopen the case after twice being shelved, as confirmed by the Cassation Court, in dates coinciding with the visits of both to ex-president Mauricio Macri.
Name and honour
In their ruling, the judges said that a cover-up could not be proven, nor was their evidence that benefits had been exchanged.
“Over and above whether it should be considered a political success or failure, the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran does not constitute a crime,” rules the judges while adding that "the present proceedings do not affect the good name and honour" of the indicted.
As a consequence of their ruling, the TOF8 judges thus gave as concluded the preparations for a trial.
They also underlined that Nisman’s denunciation of a presumed spurious pact to consecrate the impunity of the accused Iranians has been denied by reality.
“The [Interpol] red alerts were always valid and continue to be so, as Interpol notified the court in 2020,” maintained the judges.
But furthermore, the Memorandum was not implemented since “it did not meet the requisites of validity before being converted into an international treaty binding on both parties so that it never existed from the viewpoint of international law.”
“There is no direct element making us think that it went beyond a political decision to turn into a cover-up,” maintains the resolution.
The ruling also disqualified the “treason against the fatherland” tag which the late Claudio Bonadio applied to Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
“Since the Memorandum did not enter into force and since a state of war never existed between the Argentine Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is possible to deduce that no conduct rates as treason,” concluded TOF8.
Some days earlier, after the defence lawyers of the indicted had called for the closure of the trial in a new hearing headed by the TOF8 judges, Prosecutor Marcelo Colombo had rejected that request, pointing out that there was no new evidence to prove that there was no crime.
With Thursday’s ruling, the TOF8 judges did not fall in with Colombo’s request, agreeing with the defence lawyers of the indicted that there was "no crime."
Opposition leader Patricia Bullrich reacted to the news by declaring that President Alberto Fernández had “kept his promise” to the vice-president.
"Alberto Fernández fulfilled a government promise, impunity for Cristina Kirchner," the PRO party leader told the TN news channel.
"The judges consider that it is not a crime. The justice system considers that the memorandum with Iran is unconstitutional. Among all this, the death of the prosecutor Alberto Nisman has not yet been resolved. We do not like this, but it is a decision from the justice system,” she said.
Justice Minister Martín Soria celebrated the ruling acquitting the vice-president and all the indicted with criticisms of the previous administration, affirming that "when the rulings come from real judges and not a president’s tennis partners, the lies collapse on their own and justice has been done" in a post on his Twitter account.
He pointed out that this case had passed through "14 different judicial instances" assuring: "It has collapsed, it was a political case for the front pages of newspapers."
Fernández de Kirchner, 68, has been acquitted in some corruption cases dating from her presidency but remains indicted in another six.
The AMIA attack was preceded by the bomb destruction of the Israeli Embassy in 1992 leaving 29 dead and 200 injured. Impunity continues for both attacks.