An Argentine prosecutor who accused President Cristina Fernandez of orchestrating a cover-up in the investigation of Iran over the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center was found dead in his apartment, authorities said on Monday.
Alberto Nisman, who had been delving into the blast at the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people, said Wednesday that Fernandez opened secretive discussions with Iran and at least one of the men suspected of planting the bomb.
He said the scheme was intended to clear the suspects so that Argentina could start swapping grains for much-needed oil from Iran, which denies any connection with the bombing.
Nisman, who was Jewish, was found dead on Sunday night in his apartment in the posh Buenos Aires neighborhood of Puerto Madero, Argentina’s security ministry said. A 22-caliber handgun and a single bullet casing were found next to his body, the ministry said.
“Everything indicates it was a suicide,” National Security Secretary Sergio Berni told local television. “We have to see if gunpowder is found on his hands.”
Preliminary autopsy results from the morgue suggested “there was no third person intervention in Nisman’s death,” the office of state prosecutor Viviana Fein said in a statement. “Nonetheless the prosecutor is waiting for the results of many exams in order to be able to rule out any other hypothesis.”
Nisman had been due to take part in what promised to be a tough closed-door hearing in Congress on Monday to explain his accusations. Lawmakers allied with Fernandez said they were ready to grill Nisman about the charges.
The prosecutor’s security guards alerted his mother on Sunday afternoon that he was not answering his front door or phone. She found the door to his apartment locked from the inside and got a locksmith to open it. She found her son’s body on the floor of the bathroom and called the police.
“He was alone in the apartment,” prosecutor Viviana Fein told reporters. “There are no witnesses.”
Officials said an autopsy had begun and the cause of death would be announced in the days ahead.
The Clarin daily newspaper reported that Nisman told the newspaper just a few days earlier, “I could end up dead because of this.”
Nisman, in a separate TV interview, said he had also been considering increasing his security detail.
Israel issued a statement mourning Nisman’s death and urging Argentine authorities to carry on his work. Argentina’s main Jewish organizations, AMIA and DAIA, praised his “inalterable impulse to get to the truth.”
But the judge handling the case of the 1994 bombing criticized Nisman late last week for taking it upon himself to “initiate an investigation without judicial control” and said the evidence he put forth was flawed.
Argentine courts have accused Iran of sponsoring the 1994 bombing, a charge Tehran denies. In 2007, Argentine authorities secured Interpol arrest warrants for five Iranians and a Lebanese over the bombing.
In 2013, Fernandez tried to form a “truth commission” with Iran to investigate jointly. She said it would reactivate the inquiry, but Israel and Jewish groups said the move threatened to derail criminal prosecution of the case.
The truth commission pact was struck down by an Argentine court and never ratified by Iran.
Nisman had said the commission was intended to help get the arrest warrants dropped as a step toward normalizing bilateral relations and opening the door to obtaining Iranian oil needed to help close Argentina’s $7 billion per year energy deficit.