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Netflix series puts death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman back in the spotlight

Nisman was found dead the day before he was going to implicate the country's president and officials of negotiating to help alleged Iranian terrorists.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Almost five years later, the death of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who led the investigation into Argentina’s deadliest terrorist attack, still perplexes and fascinates many in this South American country.

Much as they did on Jan. 18, 2015, when the prosecutor’s lifeless body was found in mysterious circumstances that launched a debate over whether he was murdered or took his own life, Argentines spent Jan. 1, 2020 glued to their screens, this time watching the Netflix series: “Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy.”

Nisman had accused then-President Cristina Fernández, her Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, a lawmaker and four others of conspiring to lift Interpol’s red alerts against a handful of prominent Iranians accused of involvement the 1994 bombing of Argentina’s AMIA Jewish center, an attack that left 85 people dead. According to the prosecutor, Fernández’s government may have negotiated impunity for the suspects with Tehran in exchange for resuming trade relations.

The day before he was to appear before Congress to provide details about his shocking accusations, his lifeless body was found in the bathroom of his apartment with a gunshot to his head and a 22-caliber weapon at his side.

Picture taken on July 16, 2013, released by Noticias Argentinas showing Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, 51, in Buenos Aires.MARCELO CAPECE / AFP - Getty Images

Fernández, who is now Argentina’s vice president, has denied covering up the perpetrators and said she played no role in Nisman’s death. But the case remains unsolved and debate rages around whether he was executed or took his own life. A police investigation concluded he was murdered while Fernández’s government suggested he took his own life.

Over six, hour-long chapters with dozens of interviews and testimonies, including current President Alberto Fernández — who is not related to Cristina Fernández — researchers, spies, FBI and CIA agents and unpublished images, British director Justin Webster seeks to shed light on the case through the documentary.

The series quickly became the most commented topic on social media in Argentina and the president himself spoke to the media to address his statements in the documentary.

“To this day, I doubt he committed suicide,” Alberto Fernández had said in 2017 in an interview with Webster that appeared in the documentary.

But on Thursday, Argentina’s recently elected president seemed to change this position, telling local Radio Diez that “from 2017, when the interview was recorded, until now no serious evidence has appeared saying Nisman was killed.”

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Spanish "I am Nisman" during a protest sparked by the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, outside the government house in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015.Rodrigo Abd / AP

“I’d like to know what happened to Nisman and if he killed himself, why?” he said.

In an interview with The Associated Press Thursday in Barcelona, ​​where he is based, Webster said he saw nothing strange in Alberto Fernández changing his opinion over the years. “It is completely natural for people to change their minds” as they get to know more about a case.

Alberto Fernández was chief of staff during part of Cristina Fernández’s first term in office.

“When I interviewed him, he had no idea that he was going to be president. He was, as in the documentary, quite critical of Cristina (Fernández de) Kirchner. When I say critical I mean, I don’t mean he was against her and he was able to say what was good about her and what was bad about her for instance,” Webster said.

The spy referred to in the documentary’s title is Antonio Stiuso, the former Argentine counterintelligence chief signaled by Cristina Fernández as the man behind Nisman’s accusations as well as being behind his death as a revenge for having displaced him from office.

Describing both him and Cristina Fernández as “Shakespearean characters,” Webster added that Stiuso is an “absolutely fascinating” man who was responsible for investigating the AMIA attack. He said that based on his close ties with the U.S. and Israeli intelligence service he provided evidence that alleged Iran was the intellectual author of the attack and the Islamic group Hezbollah the executor. Iran has denied involvement.

Argentina’s judicial system initially described Nisman’s death as doubtful. But in 2017, when the probe moved to the federal system, investigators concluded it was a homicide linked to the investigation against Fernández’s government (2007-2015).

Another judge continued the investigation of Nisman and formally accused Cristina Fernández, Timerman – who died in 2018 – and other former officials of participating in an alleged plot to cover up Iranian involvement in the attack. The case is still pending.

As Webster warns, Nisman’s death occurred in a country strongly divided between Cristina’s supporters and foes.

“And I think to the attentive viewer who watches all six episodes, then it does bring quite a lot of clarity to the big questions around the Nisman case, around AMIA and around the memorandum case,” he said.

“That’s what makes it for me a particularly attractive story, that it’s a psychological story about a single man and psychological stories, if you like, about two other sort of Shakespearean characters, if you like... But it’s also got this international resonance that is, I think, very it’s quite a revelation about how things work,” Webster said.

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