After an epic legal battle, tests on blood and saliva from the adopted children of one of Latin America's most powerful media figures have so far not shown any matches to victims of the Argentine dictatorship.
Lawyers for Grupo Clarin owner Ernestina Herrera de Noble say the failure to find a definitive match among all the DNA provided by families of victims who disappeared in 1975 and 1976 proves she's been falsely accused of illegally adopting babies stolen from political prisoners who were later killed.
Opponents of President Cristina Fernandez also pounced Saturday, saying the partial results show the government has persecuted the publisher and her adopted children in a failed attempt to gain control of Argentina's news media.
The Clarin conglomerate celebrated in its newspapers, websites and television and radio stations, all but claiming victory after many years of legal battles with Fernandez's center-left government.
"The results are conclusive," said Jorge Anzorreguey, a lawyer representing her adoptees, Marcela and Felipe Noble. "These children will not be linked to families of the disappeared from the military regime."
Not so fast, human rights groups said. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo said scientists still had work to do at the national gene bank where families of the disappeared have donated their DNA. Comparisons to 1977 victims must be done, and the rights group suggested more material may be sought from relatives of several victims for whom test results were inconclusive.
Marcela and Felipe Noble _ now 35, according to their official adoption papers _ have fiercely defended Herrera de Noble, 84, whose media conglomerate has long been locked in a no-holds-barred power struggle with Fernandez. The president, in turn, counts the Grandmothers as a close political ally and has made a priority of prosecuting the crimes of the 1976-83 dictatorship.
The Grandmothers have helped identify 104 children who were stolen at birth from political prisoners in clandestine detention centers and adopted by people sympathetic to the military regime, using falsified documents. It believes 400 others have yet to be found, and have long treated the Nobles as an emblematic case.
If it could be proved that Herrera de Noble knowingly adopted her children under such circumstances, she could be found guilty of a crime against humanity under Argentine law. But without a DNA match to their birth families, the most she could be convicted of is falsifying paperwork, a crime whose statute of limitations has long since expired.
Argentina's genetic database includes hundreds of DNA samples and is constantly being updated despite the military junta's efforts to remove any trace of their opponents. This year alone the Grandmothers group sought court orders to open 40 more graves to collect DNA. But information is still lacking for most of the junta's 13,000 victims.
"The National Bank of Genetic Data communicated last night that in three of the 55 families whose genetic profile was compared to that of Marcela, it can't be determined whether or not there's a biological link with the young woman, and that parentage also could not be determined with one of the 57 families compared to the profile of Felipe," the Grandmothers announced.
"The genetic information of these three families must be completed to determine whether or not Felipe and Marcela maintain parentage with them," the group said, adding that many families don't know if their daughters were pregnant when they disappeared.
"State terror erased all traces of the disappeared and their descendants," the group said. "The puzzle is being solved thanks to information that society provides, but in many cases it's impossible to complete."
The Grandmothers have challenged the Nobles' official adoption stories in court since 1984.
Herrera de Noble swore that Marcela was left at her doorstep in a cardboard box on May 2, 1976, and that she heard the baby crying and brought her inside. She said Felipe was handed over as a newborn by her single mother in the courthouse while she was adopting Marcela. But witnesses the publisher cited didn't fully back the story about Marcela, and the identity numbers of Felipe's supposed birth mother gave belonged to a man. The judge who approved both adoptions died long ago.
Their papers say they were born in March and July 1976, respectively, but activists allege that the birth dates could have been invented to obscure their origin and that Felipe might have been born in 1977.
Ricardo Alfonsin, the president's leading challenger in elections Oct. 23, told a Clarin-owned radio station that the publisher's accusers "have never been interested in knowing the truth." Former president Eduardo Duhalde, running third in opinion polls, told Clarin's Todo Noticias channel that Fernandez has attacked her media rival "with the entire arsenal of state power."
Francisco de Narvaez, a businessman running against Fernandez's ally for Buenos Aires governor, said the Nobles have been persecuted politically.
"This government has demonstrated that it has used the state to construct an image of noble causes, but behind this is only dedicated to perpetuating itself in power," de Narvaez said.
But Grandmothers' founder Estela de Carlotto told the independent Radio Continental that her group has always said only that the younger Nobles "could be" children of disappeared.
"Never have we claimed what isn't proved, because that's how it is. Unfortunately, this has been going on for so many years that it has been politicized, for many logical reasons," she said.
The publisher herself has rarely spoken out on the case. One of her lengthier declarations came in January 2003, after she was briefly jailed. She said she was being abused by the judiciary, but wrote of "the legitimate desire of the Grandmothers to know if my children were taken from the detained and disappeared."
"I've spoken with my children many times about the possibility that they and their parents were victims of illegal repression. And I've always told them that I would support any decision they make," Herrera de Noble wrote in Clarin, a letter the Grandmothers' group highlighted on its website Saturday.
Lawyers for the Noble family said the case should now be thrown out.
But Alan Iud, an attorney for the Grandmothers, has said DNA comparisons must continue indefinitely under the law.
Friday night, Judge Sandra Arroyo denied a request by the Noble family's lawyers to order the genetic database lab's scientists to keep working through Argentina's winter judicial holiday. The decision buys human rights groups some time to seek more samples from victims' families.
"The Grandmothers continue to be cautious and hopeful about new comparisons and the possibility of more complete data in the bank, so that not only the Grandmothers but also Marcela and Felipe can finally know whether or not they're the children of the disappeared," the group said.