Prosecutor revives case against Argentine president

Official criticises formal decision to investigate whether Fernandez shielded Iran from scrutiny in 1994 bombing case.

    The Argentine prosecutor who inherited a major case against President Cristina Fernandez has reaffirmed the accusations, formally renewing the investigation into whether she helped Iranian officials cover up their alleged role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre.

    Gerardo Pollicita's decision on Friday to go forward with the case is significant because it sets the stage for a close examination of the investigation that Alberto Nisman, the previous prosecutor, was building before he was found dead on January 18.

    The next day, Nisman was scheduled to elaborate on his accusations to Congress.

    A senior government official called Pollicita's decision to advance the case a "judicial coup".

    Nisman accused Fernandez; Hector Timerman, the foreign minister; and others in her administration of brokering the cover-up in exchange for favourable 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.

    'Dogmatic extremes'

    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".

    Jews seek answers to 1994 bombing

    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 rumours that it was coming, her administration was moving to both reject and minimise it.

    'Judicial coup'

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

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

     Prosecutor's death angers Argentina

    Similarly, Anibal Fernandez, the presidential spokesperson, said that moving the case forward was a "clear manoeuvre to destabilise 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 phone tapping 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 Argentinean 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 was not 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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