TIME Argentina

Argentine President Says Prosecutor Who Accused Her Was Murdered

A woman chants the Argentine national anthem holding a portrait of the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman outside the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Jan. 21, 2015.
A woman chants the Argentine national anthem holding a portrait of the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman outside the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Jan. 21, 2015. Rodrigo Abd—AP

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner previously said Alberto Nisman took his own life

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner made a dramatic U-turn on Thursday when she said she was certain that prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered although she had previously insisted he had taken his own life.

In a rambling 2800-word letter published on her social media accounts on Thursday, Fernández described Nisman’s death as “the suicide that (I am convinced) was not a suicide.” Nisman’s body was found late Sunday night, only a few hours before he was about to present evidence in Congress that he claimed showed Fernández had negotiated secretly to shield five Iranian officials from charges they had masterminded a bombing in Buenos Aires that resulted in 85 deaths in 1994.

MORE Argentinian Prosecutor Who Accused President of Bomb Plot Cover-Up Found Dead

The president’s first claim that Nisman had committed suicide (“What led (Nisman) to take the terrible decision of ending his own life?” she asked on Monday) fell apart in the face of mounting evidence against the suicide theory.

Her government’s first claim that the back door to Nisman’s apartment was locked from the inside was disproved when investigators revealed that the door was not locked and there was also a third entrance to his home. Investigators could not find any gunpowder residue on Nisman’s hands, which would have suggested he had fired a gun.

On top of that, a long list of friends, journalists and even his personal trainer came forward to say that Nisman was eagerly looking forward to appearing before the Argentine Congress on Jan. 19. Nisman had even set up a series of meetings and interviews for the following week.

Both his former wife, 45-year-old Judge Sara Arroyo Salgado, and his mother, 73-year-old Sara Garfunkel, who found his body on Sunday, came out firmly against the suicide hypothesis. “All kinds of things have been said about my son,” Garfunkel said in a brief phone call with the daily Clarín Thursday, answering with a “No” when asked if she thought he had taken his own life.

Nisman’s planned presentation of the evidence to Congress on Monday would have damaged Fernández’s already-beleaguered administration. She is in the last year of a two-term presidency that has been badly shaken by crippling inflation, recession and charges of corruption involving her highest officials.

MORE These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

The president has not been seen in public since before Christmas, when she sprained an ankle in an accident.

Nisman’s breakthrough in the bombing case came in 2007 when he was able to provide enough evidence for Interpol to issue international warrants for the arrest of the Iranians he identified as his main suspects.

His friends say he felt he was on the verge of a similar breakthrough. “I had seen him in person on Wednesday,” says Waldo Wolff, vice-president of DAIA, the most important Jewish community association in Argentina. “And I spoke to him on the phone on Saturday night after he sent me a photo via Whatsapp of his desk covered with the papers of the presentation he was preparing for Congress on Monday. He seemed well, his usual extroverted self.”

A poll this week showed that 70% of people in Argentina believe Nisman was murdered, while only 12% agree with the government’s hypothesis that he took his own life. The survey by the Ipsos research firm also revealed that 82% believed that Nisman’s charges that President Fernández was involved in secret deals with the accused Iranians are “credible.”

“Just in case, so you know, I have no plan to commit suicide,” says journalist Nicolás Wiñazki, who was in constant communication with Nisman in the days before his death. “Nobody believes the government,” Wiñazki says. “He was optimistic and looking forward to appearing before Congress, he was answering my messages with positive emoticons, thumbs-up and smileys up till Saturday. Then on Sunday he stopped answering.”

The same skepticism was expressed by Nisman’s former wife and mother of his two daughters, Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, who appeared in court briefly two days ago. “I don’t believe it was suicide,” Arroyo Salgado said to journalists on the sidewalk outside the courtroom.

MORE Mystery Surrounds the Death of the Prosecutor Who Challenged the Argentine President

Nisman’s aim of bringing the suspects to justice was delayed in 2013, when Argentina’s Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman flew to Ethiopia to sign a surprise agreement with Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi. The document established a binational “truth commission” to investigate the bombing and agreed to inform Interpol that the two countries were working together to solve the case.

The unexpected deal with Iran was met with protest at home, not least because it seemed to dash whatever hopes remained of bringing the main suspects to trial in Buenos Aires. “It was unbelievable,” says Wolff. “Signing a pact with a country accused of the worst terrorist attack ever in Argentina.”

What Nisman afterwards claimed he discovered was an attempt by Fernández to secure a secret deal trade deal with Iran in tandem with the public agreement. In a 300-page document presented in court last Wednesday, Nisman detailed secret talks between emissaries of Fernández, who communicated through a go-between in Buenos Aires, with Mohsen Rabbani, Nisman’s main suspect. The Argentine government wanted to obtain badly-needed oil from Iran to help Argentina out in exchange for the lifting of the Interpol arrest warrants, Nisman alleged.

Nisman’s evidence, including the recording of the conversations between Iranian and Argentinian representatives, are now in the the custody of Judge Ariel Lijo. He is expected to decide next month if Nisman’s evidence is enough to call Fernández in for interrogation.

Read next: Yemen’s President Resigns as Capital Remains in Hands of Rebels

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Argentina

Mystery Surrounds the Death of the Prosecutor Who Challenged the Argentine President

Alberto Nisman was due to present evidence of alleged crimes to lawmakers on Monday

The violent death of a brave prosecutor who accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina of a secret attempt to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires 19 years ago has sent political shock waves through her already ailing government and the rest of the country.

Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, 51, was due to appear before a special committee in the Argentine Congress on Monday afternoon to discuss the evidence contained in a 300-page indictment against President Fernández. The papers were presented to court last Wednesday.

He alleged that Fernández and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, had conspired in an “aggravated cover-up and obstruction of justice” involving the Iranians accused of bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) center in 1994 which left 85 people dead.

Nisman was found in the bathroom of his luxury apartment in the Le Parc tower in the expensive Puerto Madero district of Buenos Aires late Sunday, when his security guards forced the door after his mother became worried because he wasn’t answering his phone.

His mother found him dead in his bathroom with a bullet wound to his head and his small-calibre gun next to him. The government moved quickly to say his death was a suicide. “Who knows what went through the prosecutor’s head to take a decision of that nature,” Presidential Secretary Aníbal Fernández told reporters on Monday morning.

Opposition leader Mauricio Macri, mayor of Buenos Aires and a candidate in the October presidential elections, appeared deeply shocked at a press conference on Monday. “I’ve gone from shock to indignation to anger,” Macri said. “The prosecutor who accused the president turns up dead. This can’t have happened.”

Journalist Jorge Lanata, who has investigated and published a book on the AMIA bombing, was also stunned. “People on the street are saying: ‘They (the government) killed Nisman’,” Lanata said in an interview on TV on Monday “If this was a crime story, then the government would be the main suspect.”

Nisman had reported he was receiving death threats since he presented his charges at court last week. “I could wind up dead because of this,” he told the newspaper Clarín. “My life changed today. It’s my job as a prosecutor and I’ve had to tell my 15-year-old daughter that she was going to hear tremendous things about me,” he added, referring to a likely smear campaign from the government following his charges.

The two top trending topics on Twitter in Argentina on Monday became: #MuerteDeNisman (DeathOfNisman) and #CFKAsesina (CFKMurderer) in reference to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

In 2007, on the basis of Nisman’s investigations into the attack, Interpol issued international warrants against six Iranian officials accused of masterminding the bombing. Among them was Moshen Rabbani, the former Iranian cultural attaché in Buenos Aires when the blast occured, Nisman’s prime suspect in the case.

Nisman’s investigation was stopped two years ago when Foreign Minister Timerman signed a surprise memorandum with Iran setting up a binational “truth commission” to interrogate the Iranian suspects in Teheran, effectively suspending his attempt to have them extradited to Argentina.

Nisman said his indignation doubled when he discovered that a wiretap his investigation had placed on phone calls between Buenos Aires and Rabbani in Iran allegedly revealed that the 2013 agreement had been the result of secret phone conversations between negotiators appointed by Fernández and Rabbani himself.

“Nothing happened without express directives from the president,” Nisman said in a 45-minute interview on TN news channel on Wednesday night, referring to the wiretapped conversations between Buenos Aires and prime suspect Rabbani.

The charges seemed to deal a crushing blow to Fernández in the final year of a presidency already encumbered with a 40% yearly inflation rate, a default on Argentina’s foreign debt last July and a court investigation into corruption charges against her Vice-President, Amado Boudou.

Nisman said he had 330 discs of phone conversations in which the alleged Argentine secret negotiators referred to him as a “dirty Jew” in their conversations with Iran. The calls showed the negotiators passed secret information from his investigation to the Iranians, Nisman claimed.

Under direct orders from the president, three negotiators had conducted secret talks with Rabbani through a mediator since 2011, offering to clear him and the other Iranian suspects of charges, in return for Iranian oil to alleviate Argentina’s chronic energy deficit, the prosecutor alleged on TV.

“You can’t negotiate impunity with anybody, and especially not with the accused. Iran admits and even boasts that it carried out the attack,” the prosecutor said of the intercepted calls. “It’s astounding how the attack is admitted.”

Reports of his suicide were met with disbelief by various journalists, including this correspondent, who had been in contact with Nisman in the last few days. “He seemed confident and ready to appear before Congress today,” said Nicolás Wiñazki on TV, who last
had contact with Nisman on Saturday afternoon. Nisman promised this correspondent an interview on Monday but later brought it forward by one day to Sunday but failed to answer any further emails.

For survivors and relatives of the victims of the still unsolved blast, however, Nisman’s death is just another in a long series of letdowns in a 19-year investigation that has failed to put a single culprit in jail.

“The culprits in the case must be found,” blast survivor Mario Averbuch remarked angrily to reporters Monday morning. “We have cover-ups, charges, versions, but regarding the case itself we have nothing.”

TIME Argentina

Argentinian Prosecutor Who Accused President of Bomb Plot Cover-Up Found Dead

Argentine prosecutor Nisman, who is investigating the 1994 car-bomb attack on the AMIA Jewish community center, speaks during a meeting with journalists at his office in Buenos Aires
Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman at his office in Buenos Aires May 29, 2013. Marcos Brindicci—Reuters

The cause of death has not yet been confirmed

Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who accused Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of covering up an investigation into the bombing of a Jewish center, was found dead in his apartment bathroom, authorities said Monday.

Nisman had been investigating a 1994 car bomb attack at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and injured hundreds more. In 2006, Nisman and a fellow prosecutor accused Iran of orchestrating the attacks; Iran has consistently denied the charges.

According to the Argentine Security Ministry, Nisman was found dead on Sunday in his apartment in Buenos Aires, next to a handgun and bullet casing.

Nisman was due to take part in a closed-door parliamentary hearings on Monday to reveal the details of his allegations against President Fernandez.

The Clarin daily reported that just a few days earlier, he had told the newspaper, “I could end up dead because of this.”

Prosecutor Viviana Fein told reporters that the state will be determining the cause of death in the coming days.

[Reuters]

TIME elections

These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

From Greece to Argentina, elections could transform the international political landscape

This past year was marked by monumental elections that ushered in new political regimes in countries like the India, and Tunisia, and solidified or extended others in places like Egypt, Brazil and Japan.

The year 2015 is shaping up to be a respite from the chaos of democracy, with the electorate of some of the world’s largest countries sitting on the sidelines. But a spate of political developments has infused global importance into elections around the world and prompted two previously unexpected votes in Greece and Israel that will have major repercussions for their respective regions.

Here’s a look at what to expect:

United States

Three of the five largest cities are electing their mayors this year. In Chicago, former Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel is running for reelection in February and holds a strong lead in polls. In Houston, the biennial vote in November will select a successor to Democratic Mayor Annise Parker, who has reached her term limit. It will be a similar situation in Philadelphia, where Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter can’t run for a third term.

Meanwhile, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi are electing governors in November, including replacements for Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, both of whom have reached their term limits.

Greece

The Greek Parliament’s refusal to elect Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s choice for president earlier this week triggered snap general elections set for January 25. Opinion polls have placed the radical leftist opposition party Syriza in the lead, raising the prospect of an anti-bailout government that could move to default on its massive debt and prompt a new eurozone crisis.

Nigeria

A stumbling economy and a persistent Islamist insurgency in the north have drained some public support for President Goodluck Jonathan, in office since 2010, and the vote on Feb. 14 is expected to be close. Jonathan will go up against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler campaigning on a platform of security and anti-corruption. But the biggest determinant of who becomes the leader of Africa’s biggest economy may fall along ethnic and regional lines: Buhari is a Muslim northerner, while Jonathan is a Christian from the south.

Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his already tenuous centrist coalition in early December and called for early general elections set for March 17, expecting to win a new mandate for himself and a more right-leaning government. But polls show that a new left-leaning coalition could beat Netanyahu’s Likud party, though the incumbent could stay in power if he successfully forms a coalition with rightist parties.

Sudan

The April 13 election is all but likely to ensure that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, wanted on genocide charges by the International Criminal Court, will extend his 25-year rule, even as violence continues between Khartoum and rebel groups in Darfur and elsewhere.

Britain

The United Kingdom is heading for what may be the closest election in a generation—and the first since a divisive vote in Scotland to remain part of the 307-year-old Union—as the Labour party seeks to unseat Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative party in elections slated for early May. The rest of the European Union will be closely watching this vote, as Cameron has promised a referendum on EU membership in 2017, while Ed Milibrand, head of Labour, has rejected the idea.

Argentina

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has drawn some public support for her obstinate stance against U.S. investors and U.S. courts who are demanding Argentina repay $1.3 billion in debt plus interest. But the skirmish has scared off investors and helped put longterm economic growth largely on hold until the dispute is resolved or, as is likely, a more market friendly president takes office following elections in October. As for Fernandez, her tenure is up after reaching her two-term limit.

Canada

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party has seen an uptick in support in recent days, putting it ahead of the Liberal party. But his party’s support took a hit this year and he’s far from guaranteed a win in elections in 2015, currently slated for Oct. 19. His biggest rival will likely be Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party and son of long-serving Premier Pierre Trudeau.

Burkina Faso

In the wake of longtime President Blaise Compaoré’s ouster amid mass protests, the interim leadership agreed to hold new elections in November. If that plan holds, the Burkinabé people will select a government not headed by Compaoré for the first time since he seized power in 1983.

Spain

The nascent anti-establishment party Podemos has skyrocketed in popularity and is now competitive with the two stalwarts in a country still burdened by an economic crisis (unemployment stands at around 24 percent). Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the right-leaning Popular Party, is already under pressure from an empowered Catalan independence movement, and the populist movement does not augur well for him in next years elections, which must take place on or before Dec. 20. But he’s hoping that economic reforms and early indications of a recovery will boost his standing.

Myanmar

The vote in late 2015 could mark a significant step in Myanmar’s heralded-but-stumbling process of political reform, but that’s not certain. Though the elections will be the first since a semi-civilian government assumed power after half-a-century of military rule, the military is still highly influential and key constitutional reforms called for by the opposition are unlikely to pass ahead of the vote. Among them is a measure to repeal a law that prevents opposition leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from running. For now, Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament and a retired general, is the front-runner.

TIME Argentina

In Argentina, a Court Grants Sandra the Orangutan Basic Rights

An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo
An orangutan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires' Zoo, December 8, 2010. Marcos Brindicci—Reuters

The ape has spent the last 20 years in a zoo

An orangutan named Sandra has been granted certain legal rights by a court in Argentina.

Lawyers for Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) argued that Sandra was a “non-human person” and was being detained illegally in Buenos Aires’ zoo, the BBC reports.

The case rested on whether the court decided the orangutan was a “person” or a “thing” and after judges rejected the writ several times, they finally ruled the ape had rights that needed protecting.

In a similar case earlier this month, a New York court decided that a chimpanzee did not have legal personhood and therefore was not entitled to human rights.

If Sandra’s case isn’t appealed, the orangutan will live out her days enjoying greater freedom in a sanctuary in Brazil.

[BBC]

TIME Italy

Watch Thousands of Tango Dancers Celebrate Pope Francis’s Birthday in Rome

The Argentinian has expressed fondness for his country's dance

There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than with a dance party, and for Pope Francis’s 78th, that means a massive tango party in the streets of Rome. Thousands gathered in and around the Vatican City to sing happy birthday in Italian, Spanish and other languages and dance to tango music—an Argentinian import like Francis himself.

Before becoming the Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave an interview for the book The Jesuit by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti expressing his love for the tango. “I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s something that comes from within me.”

[Reuters]

TIME Soccer

Player Killed in Argentina’s 15th Soccer-Related Death This Year

A fan of Argentine soccer team Boca Juniors confronts police during riots after celebrations of Boca Juniors Fan Day in Buenos Aires
A fan of Argentine soccer team Boca Juniors confronts police during riots after celebrations of Boca Juniors Fan Day in downtown Buenos Aires December 12, 2013. Marcos Brindicci—Reuters

Soccer-related violence is rife in the South American country

An Argentine soccer player died on Wednesday after being attacked by a group of hooligans, an incident that highlights the South American country’s ever-present problem with violence around the sport.

Franco Nieto was attacked Saturday as he was getting into to his car with his wife and one-month-old daughter, the Associated Press reported. Nieto, the captain of Rosario-based team Tiro Federal, had just finished playing a match against Buenos Aires club Chacarita Juniors in which eight players were ejected by the referee for fighting.

The attackers punched and kicked the 33-year-old player before one of them hit him on the head with a stone, according to police in Aimogasta, some 750 miles northwest of the capital. He was taken to the hospital but succumbed to his injuries on Wednesday.

Nieto’s demise raises the death toll from soccer-related incidents in Argentina to 15 this year, according to an NGO called Salvemos al Football (Let’s Save Football). In a country where the sport is seen as a way out of poverty, and rags-to-riches stars like Diego Maradona and Carlos Tevez are revered, being a part of the Barras Bravas — the gangs that control the streets around stadiums — is considered almost as prestigious.

The gangs, aside from carrying feuding with rival clubs, are also involved in the trade of illegal drugs and weapons as well as money laundering, according to the BBC. This often leads not just to incidents like Nietos death, but often to drive-by-shootings and gunfights in the streets.

The Argentina Football Association has taken steps to curb soccer-related violence, including preventing those with criminal records from entering stadiums and even banning away fans across the country. But many say the widespread corruption among local police and politicians, which has allowed the Barras Bravas to thrive, makes this a somewhat futile endeavor.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 4

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Reimagine your school library as a makerspace.

By Susan Bearden in EdSurge

2. New materials could radically change air conditioning.

By The Economist

3. Ambassadorships are too important to hand out to political donors.

By Justine Drennan in Foreign Policy

4. There’s a better way: Using data and evidence — not politics — to make policy.

By Margery Turner at the Urban Institute

5. The tax-code works for the rich. Low-income households need reforms that make deductions into credits and stimulate savings.

By Lewis Brown Jr. and Heather McCulloch in PolicyLink

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Argentina

Judge Holds Argentina in Contempt of Court

The South American country's showdown with the U.S. court continues

A U.S. judge found Argentina to be in civil contempt of court as it continues to defy his rulings that the country repay some $1.6 billion to holdout creditors–largely American hedge funds–before it pays other bondholders, Bloomberg reports.

Most recently, the country has moved to shift control of its structured debt payments to Buenos Aires from New York, despite the judge’s rulings.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Griesa in Manhattan said that move is “illegal and cannot be carried out.”

Griesa did not rule on a penalty, but the holdout creditors have asked him to fine Argentina $50,000 a day until it complies.

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the contempt ruling undermines “the dignity of foreign states,” according to Bloomberg. “The decision by Judge Griesa has no practical effects beyond providing new elements in the defamation campaign being waged against Argentina by vulture funds.”

[Bloomberg]

TIME Archaeology

Researchers Find Dinosaur Species That Weighed More Than a Jumbo Jet

Dreadnoughtus
This undated artist rendering provided by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shows the Dreadnoughtus. Mark A. Klingler—Associated Press

Bones found in Argentina's Patagonia region

A team of researchers said Thursday that they have found a species of dinosaur that was 85 feet long and weighed as much as 12 elephants, making it one of the largest animals known to have walked the Earth.

The team unearthed the fossilized skeleton of the giant herbivore in Argentina’s Patagonia region and say that some 70 percent of the skeleton is represented. They published their findings in Scientific Reports on Thursday, calling it the most complete skeleton of a titanosaur — a group of giant long-necked dinosaurs that existed roughly 75 million years ago — ever found.

Despite the dinosaur’s enormous size, which is nearly as large as the estimated sizes of other, less-complete fossilized titanosaurs, the researchers say this one was likely still growing when it died.

“I look at this dinosaur every day now and I still can’t believe it exists,” researcher Kenneth Lacovara, of Drexel University in Philadelphia, told the Wall Street Journal. The fossils are on loan to the U.S. but are slated to be returned to Argentina next year.

The dinosaur, formally called the Dreadnoughtus schrani, is believed to have weighed 65 tons, well above the weight of a Boeing 737-900 and nearly 10 times the weight of a T. rex, the Journal notes. Its neck was 37 feet long and its tail extended another 29 feet.

“We are seeing something that is pushing the envelope of how big you can get on this planet,” Lacovara told the Journal.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser