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Alberto Nisman Conspiracy Theories Fly As Argentine Election Nears


NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in Argentina to cover Sunday's presidential election there, and she's found conspiracy theories still swirling around the death of Alberto Nisman. He was the prosecutor found dead with a bullet to his head right before he was to give what he said would be explosive testimony about Argentina's president. Lourdes sent this report on the status of that case.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: It wasn't so long ago the tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Buenos Aires calling for clarity in the death of Alberto Nisman. Ask anyone these days about him though, and this is typical of the reaction you'll get...

MARTIN BOHMER: Uh, Nisman...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Martin Bohmer, a lawyer who knew Nisman. There's a simple reason for his sigh of frustration. It's been 10 months since the prosecutor died and there still has been no ruling on whether he was killed or he committed suicide.

BOHMER: All that I can say is that there's a lot of suspicion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Here's a quick refresher on the case. Alberto Nisman was the lead prosecutor investigating a deadly terror attack on a Jewish community center in 1994. Nisman believed that Iran was behind the attack, and he was working to prove it. Right before his death, he was about to present what he said was evidence to Congress that charged that the President Kirchner and her ministers were trying to cover up Iran's involvement in return for lucrative trade deals.

ROMINA MANGUEL: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Romina Manguel is an investigative journalist who's been closely following the Nisman saga. She says there's a huge battle right now between the prosecutor's office investigating Nisman's death and Nisman's family.

MANGUEL: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "The two sides are looking at the same forensic reports," she says, "the same evidence, and one says it's black and the other says it's white." She says the prosecutor's office is leaning towards calling Nisman's death a suicide. The family claims it was cold-blooded murder.

MANGUEL: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Manguel says there are many unexplained aspects to the case. For example, there are missing instant messages that were wiped from Nisman's phone.

"Who wiped them and when?" she asks. Also she says a video surfaced showing police and investigators contaminating the crime scene and sloppily collecting evidence. She says she suspects that the investigation has dragged on because his death is so politically loaded.

MANGUEL: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Any investigator will tell you the first 24 hours after a death," she says, "is key to the investigation. It's now 10 months later. It's like sand in our hands," she says. "Everything we might've known is slipping away."

MANGUEL: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Manguel says, "in that vacuum, a lot of other interests start muddying the waters. So this is the latest twist. Not only is Nisman's death being investigated, but so now is Nisman himself. Bank accounts in his name have been discovered with substantial sums that were undeclared. Where did that money come?"

Manguel says focusing on his finances is part of a campaign to discredit him and therefore make solving his death less vital, but others say this shows Nisman was far from being an altruistic seeker of truth.

JORGE ELBAUM: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jorge Elbaum is a former director of one the most powerful Jewish organizations in Argentina. He's now a vocal critic of Nisman. He says Nisman was in the pay of right-wing Jewish groups allied with the U.S. Republican Party to scupper the nuclear deal with Iran. Elbaum contends that is why Nisman was intent on blaming Iran for the Jewish community center bombing.

PABLO GITTER: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Pablo Gitter is the head of one of the groups for the victims of that Jewish community center bombing. He thinks the Nisman money comes from slush funds run by Argentina's intelligence apparatus.

So pretty much all we know for certain, almost a year later, is that Alberto Nisman is dead. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.