When Alberto Nisman’s body was found inside his Buenos Aires apartment with a bullet lodged in his head, questions immediately arose about the circumstances surrounding his death and the investigation he had been conducting into a 1994 car-bomb attack on an Argentinian Jewish center by Iranian terrorists that killed 85 people.
The investigation into whether the special prosecutor took his own life or was killed to cover-up details of a pact between Argentina and Iran – or as President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner suggested, was killed to incriminate her government – is still in its very nascent stages, but Nisman’s 289-page report on the bombing left little room for argument over the collusion between officials in Buenos Aires and Tehran to reach an understanding by which the cash-strapped Latin American country might receive cheaper oil.
"The Argentinian economy is in really dire straits, and they’re shut out of almost every foreign market, and their economic lifelines are drying up," Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council, told Fox News Latino. "The Argentinians were forced to look at deal wherever they could get a deal."
Nisman’s report on the bombing at the Argentinian Jewish Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) bombing, released Tuesday night, revealed intercepted conversations between representatives of the Iranian and Argentinian governments that point to a pattern of secret negotiations.
The transcripts indicate a secret meeting in Aleppo, Syria, in January 2011 between Argentinian Foreign Minister Héctor Timmerman and his Iranian counterpart at the time, Ali-Akbar Salehi, during which Timmerman suggested that Argentina would no longer be interested in investigating the AMIA attack if Iran were willing to supply the country with inexpensive oil.
He must have had a really, really good card to play to be killed.
- Leah Soibel, executive director of El Fuente Latina on Alberto Nisman's death
The Aleppo meeting was followed by another in which a team of Argentinian negotiators tried, unsuccessfully, to exchange the immunity of the Iranians involved in the attack for much-needed oil.
Many observers wonder why Argentina would propose such a deal with Iran, especially given the lasting emotional and political scars that the 1994 attack left on the country.
Argentina gained worldwide praise after the end of the military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1973 to 1983, and a subsequent truth commission (the National Commission on the Disappeared) helped to bring a number of human rights abusers to justice.
"The real disappointing thing about this is that Argentina was revered around the world for the truth commission following the military dictatorship," Marczak said. "We’re seeing a reverse course under the Fernández de Kirchner government."
All the evidence in Nisman’s report suggests that Argentina’s economic woes were the reason for the country making the dirty deal with Iran. The country was teetering on the brink of financial collapse and was viewed as a pariah by global lenders, before defaulting last August for a second time in 13 years.
"Argentina has a severe, ongoing energy deficit that directly impacts the country’s trade and economy," Leah Soibel, the executive director of the Jerusalem-based non-profit group Fuente Latina, told FNL. "The deal in question would have been mutually beneficial. Argentina desperately needed to increase its oil imports. Iran wanted Nisman’s investigation and Interpol warrants against Iranian leaders accused of involvement in the AMIA attack to come to an end."
Nisman’s investigation also revealed that Argentina offered to trade grains and even weapons with Iran in exchange for oil – a move reminiscent to the one in which Venezuela, under the late Hugo Chávez, sent oil to the Dominican Republic in exchange for black beans.
While Nisman made clear that no deal for oil with Iran ever reached fruition – a move that could have triggered hefty U.S. sanctions – but business between the two countries ramped up with reports indicating that the annual trade volume between the two countries, while insignificant in previous decades, now stands at more than $1 billion a year.
"Up until now Iran has been looking at Latin America to relieve some of its financial problems," Soibel said.
Trade with Argentina is just one of Iran's recent moves in the region. In 2012, the country's state-run news agency, IRIB, launched a Spanish-language television channel, HispanTV, and former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made frequent visits to Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Brazil during his years in office between 2005 and 2013.
Some observers believe that Nisman was killed, despite the damning information released in his report, because he had even more explosive information that could force Argentina to prosecute the Iranian agents involved in the AMIA bombing ... and to derail the lucrative trade between the two countries.
“The report laid out his case against the government,” Soibel said. “But there was something more, something Nisman knew that could endanger Argentinean-Iranian relations.”
If he was killed, she added, "He must have had a really, really good card to play."
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