Case against Argentine president moves forward

AP News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2015 4:33 PM
Case against Argentine president moves forward

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The Argentine prosecutor who inherited a high-profile case against President Cristina Fernandez reaffirmed the accusations Friday, formally renewing the investigation into whether she helped Iranian officials cover up their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center.

A top government official called the move a "judicial coup."

Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita's decision to go forward with the case was significant because it sets the stage for a close examination of the investigation that prosecutor Alberto Nisman was building before he was found dead Jan. 18. The next day, Nisman was scheduled to elaborate his accusations to Congress.

Nisman accused Fernandez, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and others in her administration of brokering the cover-up in exchange for favorable deals on oil and other goods from Iran. Fernandez and Timerman have strongly denied the accusations, and Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in the bombing, which killed 85 people.

In a statement, Pollicita recounted Nisman's accusations without providing any analysis of them. He did not go as far as Nisman in requesting that Fernandez and other officials be questioned.

However, he concluded that an investigation is necessary to "achieve a degree of understanding to prove or disprove the factual and dogmatic extremes expressed in the preceding paragraphs."

Pollicita will present his findings to judge Daniel Rafecas, the federal magistrate assigned to the case who will ultimately decide whether to dismiss it or send it on to trial.

Meanwhile, three other prosecutors and a coordinator were named on Friday to take over Nisman's general investigation into the bombing itself, which he had led for 10 years. No one has been convicted in the case.

Nisman's death has brought increased attention to his accusations against Fernandez, with television stations dedicating several hours each day to all aspects of his probe and the investigation into his death nearly a month after he was found with a bullet in his right temple. Fernandez's popularity has suffered, according to several polls.

Even before Pollicita's decision, amid rumors that it was coming, her administration was moving to both reject and minimize it.

Cabinet chief Jorge Capitanich called the move a "judicial coup" during his daily press briefing.

"The Argentine people should know that we're talking about a vulgar lie, of an enormous media operation, of a strategy of political destabilization and the biggest judicial coup d'etat in the history of Argentina to cover the real perpetrators of the crime," he said.

Similarly, presidential spokesman Anibal Fernandez said that moving the case forward was a "clear maneuver to destabilize democracy" but that ultimately "it has no legal value. It does not matter."

The strength of Nisman's 289-page investigation, presented to a judge a few days after his death, has been a hot topic of debate within the legal community.

The basis of his case are wiretaps of administration officials allegedly talking about a secret deal around the time of a 2013 "Memorandum of Understanding" that Argentina reached with Iran. The agreement, which is being challenged in Argentine courts, on its face sets the conditions for the two countries to investigate the bombing.

Juan Jose Avila, a criminal lawyer, said arguing that Nisman's case wasn't strong enough misses the point, because at this stage, no investigation is ready to be tried in court.

"No accusation, when it's first made, is proven," he said.

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Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava contributed to this report.