Conflicting Evidence Clouds Death of Argentine Prosecutor Alberto Nisman

January 22, 2015 Updated: January 22, 2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina—Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said Thursday she’s “convinced” that prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s death was not a suicide, raising more questions about the death of the man who had accused her of a cover-up in the nation’s worst terrorist attack.

In a letter published by the state news agency Telam, Fernandez said questions about Nisman’s death”have been converted into certainty. The suicide (I’m convinced) was not a suicide.”

Fernandez’ letter contrasts with one she wrote Monday in which she referred to his death as a suicide.

The 51-year-old Nisman was found slumped in the bathroom of his apartment Sunday night with a bullet wound in his head. He was lying next to a .22-caliber handgun and a bullet casing.

The death came days after Nisman gave a judge a 289-page report alleging Fernandez secretly reached a deal to prevent prosecution of former Iranian officials accused of involvement in the 1994 car bombing of Argentina’s largest Jewish center, an attack that killed 85 people.

Fernandez dismissed those accusations in Thursday’s letter.

Nisman’s body was found early Monday, just hours before he was to present details of his allegations to congress.

A locksmith who was called to open Nisman’s apartment after the prosecutor failed to answer repeated phone calls said Wednesday that a service door to the apartment wasn’t fully locked. Investigators also revealed they had found a third access point to the apartment, one of several factors raising doubts of the initial finding of suicide.

Within hours of the discovery of Nisman’s body, lead investigator Viviana Fein said the death appeared to be suicide and there were no indications anyone else was involved. She said the apartment’s door was locked from the inside and there were no signs it had been forced.

But family and friends of Nisman immediately rejected the finding and protesters took to the streets demanding justice for the prosecutor who had spent 10 years investigating the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center.

No suicide note was found and an initial test of Nisman’s hand showed no gunpowder residue, although Fein said that may have been due to the small caliber of the gun. Also feeding suspicion was the rapid arrival of national Security Secretary Sergio Berni at the apartment, since he is a government, not a judicial, official. He denied he altered the crime scene.

The locksmith’s comments to reporters raised speculation that someone could have accessed the 13th-floor apartment.

After testifying to investigators Tuesday, the locksmith, who gave his name to journalists only as Walter, said he decided to go through the service door because the main door had a keyless system.

Authorities earlier said Nisman’s mother hadn’t been able to open the service door because a key was in the lock on the other side.

The locksmith, however, told reporters: “The service door wasn’t closed. I simply pushed the key and entered in two minutes.”

He was able to quickly open the door with the help of a hook, he said. “It took me longer to pack up my things (tools) than to open the door.”

He added, “If someone entered or not, I don’t know.”

Argentina’s official news agency Telam, meanwhile, said investigators had found a third access point to the residence, a narrow passage holding air conditioning equipment that connects to a neighboring apartment occupied by an unidentified foreigner. They were investigating a seemingly recent footprint and fingerprint found inside.

Fein said the gun found beside Nisman had been given to him by one of his colleagues, a man named Diego Lagomarsino, officials said.

The death, and the release Tuesday of Nisman’s report on the 1994 bombing, caused a crisis for the government, which scrambled to promise “maximum transparency and cooperation” in the investigation.

His report accused Fernandez and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of reaching agreement with Iran to shield eight Iranians, including former senior officials, from prosecution for allegedly masterminded the attack in exchange for a lucrative deal to trade Argentine grains and meat for Iranian oil.

In any case, Interpol never dropped its “red notices” for the arrest of five of the Iranians, and Argentina said its trade with Iran, in fact, has diminished in recent years.

Writing with passion in his report, Nisman called the alleged agreement “a criminal plan to erase at a stroke the serious accusations that weigh on the Iranian fugitives … something unprecedented and never before seen.”

The document did not appear to show direct or documentary evidence of a deal, but it did include wiretap transcripts of several people discussing such negotiations and saying the deal was approved by “la jefa” — Spanish for a female “chief” — and “at the highest level.”

The government dismissed Nisman’s allegations as “weak” and “baseless,” and Fernandez on Tuesday released a long message saying Nisman’s investigation was meant “to divert, to lie, to cover up and confuse” ahead of a trial of former President Carlos Menem and other officials for a separate alleged cover-up of the bombing. Nisman, however, was the prosecutor in that case as well.

Nisman was appointed to his post in 2005 by then President Nestor Kirchner, Fernandez’s late husband, after a bungled 10-year probe launched under Menem that led to a trial in which all of the defendants were found not guilty.

From The Associated Press