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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – A federal appeals court on Thursday threw out a case accusing President Cristina Fernandez and other top officials of a major cover-up deal with Iran, giving a victory of sorts to an administration that has been rocked by the mysterious death of the prosecutor who made the allegation.
In a 2-1 decision, the 1st Chamber of the Federal Court upheld a February decision by federal Judge Daniel Rafecas to dismiss the case. In a withering ruling, Rafecas said the case failed to present a single element of a possible crime.
That decision was appealed by prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita, who argued that a full investigation, including testimony of top officials, was necessary to evaluate the merits of the accusations.
In Thursday's ruling, Judge Jorge Ballestero wrote that there was "a notable disparity between what is claimed and what is proven."
"It's the presence of evidence that should lead to a criminal investigation and not the other way around," he wrote.
Dissenting Judge Eduardo Farah made the opposite argument, saying that opening an investigation was the only way to determine what was true.
Deciding against a probe "isn't just incorrect, it's contrary to what the law stipulates," he wrote.
The decision can be appealed to the Criminal Appeals Court.
Prosecutor Alberto Nisman leveled the allegations against Fernandez on Jan. 14, and four days later he was found shot dead in his bathroom. Nisman's death, which has captivated the South American nation and turned Argentines into armchair detectives, has yet to be solved.
Nisman accused Fernandez of making a deal with Iran to cover up the alleged roles of several Iranian officials wanted in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center that killed 85 people and wounded hundreds.
Nisman said Fernandez made the secret pact in exchange for favorable trade deals with the Middle Eastern country. His 289-page investigation, which was published after his death, is based on wire-taps of administration officials allegedly talking about the deal.
Fernandez has strongly denied Nisman's allegations, and Iran long has denied any role in the bombing. Still, fallout from Nisman's death has hurt Fernandez's popularity as her governing party prepares for elections in October. Fernandez, constitutionally barred from running for a third term, has yet to pick a successor candidate.
Roberto Bacman, director of the Center for Public Opinion Studies, said Fernandez's approval rating dropped from around 50 percent to 40 percent within six weeks of Nisman's death. In the last few weeks, it has started climbing and is now around 45 percent, he said.
"Today's decision is good news for this government" ahead of the elections, Bacman said. "It allows them to start talking about the accomplishments of this administration instead of Nisman."
Peter Prengaman on Twitter: https://twitter.com/peterprengaman