Mohsen Rabbani, the former press and cultural attaché of the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires who stands accused of involvement in the deadly 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre, has added to speculation over the mysterious death of Alberto Nisman, just days before the fifth anniversary of the late prosecutor’s death.
Rabbani, one of the six Iranian names in the 2007 Interpol red alert issued in connection with the attack, asserted in an interview with a local radio station that Nisman was murdered or induced to kill himself for the same reason which others adduce to conclude that his death was suicide – a lack of evidence to support his allegations of Iranian involvement in the bombing and the connivance of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (currently Argentina’s vice-president, though president at the time of Nisman’s death.
Rabbani’s comments, in an interview with Radio 10 yesterday, could hardly have been better timed to create a news splash. They come just one week before the fifth anniversary of Nisman being found dead from a gunshot wound to his head in his Puerto Madero apartment, and soon after the release of a Netflix documentary reviewing the case, which has become the talk of the town. The week has also been marked by escalating tensions between Iran and the United States following the US drone strike which killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Soleimani.
Rabbani’s statements drew contrasting reactions from President Alberto Fernández and the AMIA Jewish organisation.
“No comment,” answered a terse Fernández when confronted with Rabbani’s bombshell upone ntering the Centro Cultural Kirchner for an event focused on gender violence.
‘PAIN AND IRRITATION’
AMIA president Ariel Eichbaum was far more voluble on the subject, telling local media that Rabbani should turn himself over for trial “if he has information,” instead of giving opinions on the radio at a distance under the shelter of “impunity,” acceding to the various extradition requests against him.
Expressing his “pain and irritation” over Rabbani’s intervention, Eichbaum spelled out: “This is what he should do: present himself to the Argentine courts with all the corresponding constitutional guarantees to offer explanations to the families of the 85 fatal victims in the AMIA massacre. Terrorism is a global menace which we should all be committed to fighting so that those responsible pay for their actions.”
The presidential reticence on the issue is attributed to a reluctance to rock the boat with his vice-president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who as Argentina’s 2007-2015 leader had a contentious relationship with the US over Iran and other issues (including friction with holdouts from the debt bond swaps of 2005 and 2010).
The former president was directly accused by Nisman of protecting Iranians allegedly involved in the bombing by conspiring to lift the Interpol red alerts. Nisman centred his fire on the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding with Iran, which he interpreted as negotiating impunity for the Iranian suspects with Tehran in exchange for resuming trade relations.
But on January 18, 2015 – the weekend before he was due to appear in Congress to expand on his shocking accusations – Nisman was found in the bathroom of his apartment with a gunshot wound to his head and a 22-calibre weapon by his side.
Speaking from Iran with Radio10’s Gustavo Sylvestre, Rabbani yesterday denied orchestrating the bombing while cultural attaché for the Iranian Embassy in Buenos Aires. A denial which he has repeated often enough in the past but the Shi’ite cleric broke new ground when he spoke about Nisman for the first time.
“Why when Alberto Nisman had the opportunity to testify to the deputies, did they kill him? Who killed Nisman? Why don’t they let people in Argentina know the truth, why are they hiding the truth?” blurted out Rabbani.
“I think that they killed Nisman so that nobody could find out that he was empty-handed because he had paid off a lot of people with money sent from Israel,” he continued, adding: “They did not let him testify, they did not let the people know the reality; when Nisman wanted to go to Argentina’s National Assembly (sic), the night beforehand they said he had died – who killed him?”
But at a later stage in the interview Rabbani retreated from directly describing Nisman’s death as murder, speculating that Nisman might have been pressured by others to kill himself for similar reasons. At no stage in the interview did the ex-diplomat offer any proof for his conspiracy theories about the prosecutor’s death.
Alejandro Rúa, the lawyer who had been poised to defend Fernández de Kirchner and her late foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, against Nisman’s accusations until the prosecutor’s death, expressed differing views to those put forth by AMIA, calling Rabbani’s statements nothing more than an opinion and warmly defending the Memorandum of Understanding with Iran.
If the memorandum had been implemented, “a judge could be interrogating the suspects today and we would have Rabbani’s court statements as an answer for the victims of the attack who have been waiting 25 years,” said Rúa.
The intelligence services had been following Rabbani since before the attack and his suspected intervention was highlighted from the day of the bombing and yet he stayed five more years in Argentina with the arrest warrant issued when he was no longer in the country, Rúa pointed out.
As Argentines once again debate whether the late prosecutor was murdered or took his own life, local interest in the Netflix series, Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy, will only rise after Rabbani’s outbursts.