Argentina judge dismisses cover-up case against president

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The ex-wife of Alberto Nisman, Sandra Arroyo Salgado participates in a rally called by Argentinean prosecutors to pay homage to Nisman in Buenos Aires, Argentina on February 18, 2015. A judge has dismissed the case against President Cristina Kirchner.

BUENOS AIRES – An Argentine judge on Thursday dismissed the case against President Cristina Kirchner for allegedly shielding Iranian officials from prosecution over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish centre.

Prosecutors had sought to relaunch the case against Kirchner that was being brought by their late colleague Alberto Nisman, who died mysteriously last month after accusing Kirchner of protecting Iranians suspected of ordering the attack which killed 85 people.

Judge Daniel Rafecas said the prosecution team that took over the file from Nisman had failed to provide sufficient evidence that Kirchner committed a crime, assailing their case in a 63-page ruling.

"I dismiss the case because no crime was committed," Rafecas said.

"It is clear that none of the alleged crimes presented by (lead prosecutor Gerardo) Pollicita in his petition to the court are demonstrated in the least."

Responding to the prosecution&39;s allegations that Kirchner sought to have an Interpol wanted notice for the Iranian suspects annulled, Rafecas wrote: "The evidence gathered, far from supporting the prosecution&39;s version, roundly refutes it."

Interpol&39;s former director has denied that any such request was made.

Nisman was appointed a decade ago to reopen the investigation into the long-unsolved bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, which also left 300 people wounded.

He accused Iran of ordering the attack via Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a claim the government in Tehran denies.

He later concluded that a 2013 deal between Argentina and Iran for the suspects to be investigated by a joint commission was a conspiracy designed to ensure they would never be brought to justice.

 

Mystery death

Nisman was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the head in his bathroom on January 18, four days after filing a report accusing Kirchner, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other figures close to the government of protecting high-ranking Iranian officials, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in exchange for oil and other trade benefits.

Nisman died on the eve of congressional hearings where he was due to present his findings.

Since his death, initially labelled a suicide, suspicion has fallen on Kirchner&39;s government of orchestrating his murder.

The president has suggested the prosecutor was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.

Kirchner&39;s supporters rallied around her after Thursday&39;s ruling.

"Judge Rafecas&39;s ruling puts in black and white the huge mess that put Nisman&39;s case in the ranks of the ridiculous," top Kirchner aide Anibal Fernandez wrote on Twitter.

"The farce is over," tweeted Ecuador&39;s left-wing President Rafael Correa.

 

Sweeping intelligence reform

Kirchner has clashed with the intelligence establishment, sacking the top officials at Argentina&39;s Intelligence Secretariat and introducing a bill to disband it.

The bill passed the Chamber of Deputies early on Thursday by a vote of 131 to 71, clearing its final hurdle in a congress where Kirchner enjoys a solid majority.

The legislation, which Kirchner is expected to sign in the coming days, dissolves the secretariat and replaces it with a body called the Federal Intelligence Agency.

Kirchner had argued the secretariat still operated with agents and methods dating back to Argentina&39;s 1976-1983 dictatorship.

The intelligence services had already been ensnared in a scandal involving wiretaps carried out to extort judges, prosecutors and other powerful figures.

One of the new law&39;s most controversial changes is to put the country&39;s solicitor general, who answers to Kirchner, in charge of the office responsible for carrying out telephone wiretaps.

Nisman had based his accusations against Kirchner and her foreign minister on hundreds of hours of wiretaps.

After Nisman raised suspicions about the president, the government turned the spotlight on Antonio Stiuso, who had been sacked as the secretariat&39;s operations chief in December.

Kirchner has accused the powerful ex-spy of feeding false information to Nisman, and suggested that he then had the prosecutor killed.

On Tuesday, the government accused Stiuso of running a smuggling ring and committing tax fraud.

Opposition lawmakers had been demanding a reform of the spy agency, but criticised the new law as a move by Kirchner to shift attention away from the Nisman case.

They opened the debate on the bill with a minute of silence in Nisman&39;s memory.