воскресенье, 8 марта 2015 г.

Argentine 'government pressure’ over Iran investigation

Political interference alleged as judge dismisses terror cover-up claims against President Cristina Kirchner

By Martin Arostegui

A lawyer investigating claims that the Argentine president covered up Iran’s alleged role in a 1994 terror bombing has said that a judge’s dismissal of the case against her is due to “obvious government pressures”.

The ruling came just hours after Cristina Kirchner’s allies in congress voted to “restructure” the intelligence services in a shake-up that gives powerful roles in the new spy agency to loyalists of the president.

“The government is trying to bring Argentina’s justice system to its knees”, said Marta Nercellas, a lawyer who worked closely with Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor found shot dead last month just hours before he was to present his accusations against Mrs Kirchner.

State prosecutors and independent lawyers joined an estimated 400,000 Argentines who marched through Buenos Aires last week to demand an end to government interference in the judiciary in the wake of Mr Nisman’s mysterious death.

On Thursday night, a federal judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to pursue the complaint against Mrs Kirchner that she was covering up the alleged role of Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre that claimed 85 lives.

Judge Daniel Rafecas took the decision to dismiss the case, which was the result of several years’ investigation by Mr Nisman, just two weeks after he was chosen to handle the complaint in a lottery.

He said that he came under no pressure as he considered the evidence, but his decision raised growing concerns over interference and intimidation in the judiciary.

“Many of Argentina’s federal judges are operating under death threats and other forms of harassment which have even involved clandestine break-ins at their offices and homes,” said Ms Nercellas, a lawyer for Daia, the country’s main Jewish organisation.

She said that there had been repeated unsolved break-ins and thefts of computers, records and other material linked with the investigations. Some judges have said their wives and children have been tailed.

“Federal judges are trying to maintain their independence but the intelligence services are acting more and more aggressively,” said Ms Nercellas.

Patricia Bullrich, an MP who heads the criminal justice committee, said: “It seems the judge is trying to ingratiate himself with the powers-that-be.”

A prosecutor appointed to replace Mr Nisman is expected to appeal against the ruling.

The explosive allegations were made as the ruling party passed a bill introduced by Mrs Kirchner to replace the current intelligence secretariat (SI) with a new agency staffed with political operatives in key posts.

Under the legislation, the new SI will be coordinated with other security agencies by the intelligence secretary in the president’s office, Oscar Parrilli.

Key investigative functions such as electronic eavesdropping would be directly supervised by another presidential confidante who currently heads the attorney general office, Alejandra Gils Carbo. The new law would also give the SI the power destroy or delete records.

The existing SI played a key role in Mr Nisman’s investigation, by providing him with telephone intercepts of apparent negotiations between top government officials and Iranian counterparts.

The prosecutor had even drafted an arrest warrant for Mrs Kirchner, claiming that she was conducting the cover-up in return for securing a trade deal, including cheap oil from Iran for her debt-laden government.

The president has denied the allegations and accused rogue agents of deliberately feeding false information to the prosecutor. She said the old intelligence service was out of control and could have been involved in the death of Mr Nisman in a campaign to destabilise her government.

But a former senior counter-terrorism officer with the agency last month told The Telegraph that presidential operatives in the secret services were behind Mr Nisman’s death.

Charges of evidence tampering by the government have also been made by a policewoman who was at Mr Nisman's apartment. She said that officers supposedly combing the flat for clues and DNA samples manhandled the body and used the kitchen and bathroom before the process was completed.

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