World News

Aide Accused of Playing Role in Death of Argentine Prosecutor

Posted December 26, 2017 9:24 p.m. EST

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A federal judge in Argentina on Tuesday indicted a computer expert on charges that he acted as an accomplice in the January 2015 death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman. It is the first time a judge has formally called the politically fraught case, which remains unsolved, a homicide.

In the indictment, Judge Julián Ercolini contended that the expert, Diego Lagomarsino, lent Nisman, his boss, the gun that was used to kill him as part of a conspiracy to create the impression that the prosecutor had killed himself.

But the court filing does not shed significant new light on the mysterious death of Nisman, who was leading an investigation into the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.

Shortly before he died, Nisman accused Cristina Fernández, then the president, and other top officials of covering up Iran’s possible involvement in the bombing, the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history.

Ercolini also indicted four of Nisman’s bodyguards — Rubén Benítez, Néstor Durán, Armando Niz and Luis Miño — on charges that they failed to fulfill the duties of a public servant and took part in the cover-up.

Ercolini accused the bodyguards of negligence for allowing the weapon to enter Nisman’s apartment. He also faulted them for not detecting the shooting when it happened, which the judge said allowed the culprit or culprits to leave the scene undetected and delayed the discovery of the body.

He ordered Lagomarsino to remain under electronic monitoring pending trial and froze his assets and bank accounts.

Lagomarsino acknowledged shortly after the prosecutor’s death that the bullet that killed Nisman, who was shot in the head, came from a handgun he owned. But he has consistently said that Nisman asked to borrow the weapon after receiving threats against him and his daughters.

Lagomarsino, who learned of the indictment while he was being interviewed on live television, insisted that he was innocent.

“Alberto Nisman ruined my life,” Lagomarsino said in a radio interview shortly before Ercolini’s indictment was made public. “He had no idea he would be putting me in the mess that he did.”

Lagomarsino said the courts should judge him for lending Nisman a gun “if I committed a crime,” but he insisted that “I have nothing to do with the rest.”

In the 656-page indictment, Ercolini noted that “Nisman was killed with Diego Lagomarsino’s weapon and, at the same time, he was the last person who entered the prosecutor’s apartment.”

Ercolini added that in the wake of Nisman’s death there were numerous events that led officials to “publicly push the idea of suicide,” contributing to an “almost unambiguous public certainty that Nisman had taken his own life.”

Ercolini acknowledged that while he was accusing Lagomarsino of involvement in the homicide, the actual perpetrators “remain unknown.”

In his accusation, Ercolini cast blame on officials from the government of Fernández, who, along with friendly media outlets, promoted the theory that Nisman committed suicide.

“The death of prosecutor Nisman was not a suicide and was produced by third parties in an intentional manner,” Ercolini asserted.

Nisman was found dead in his bathroom with a gunshot wound to the head hours before he was scheduled to testify at a congressional hearing about his accusation that Fernández and several members of her administration conspired with Iran to cover up Iran’s possible involvement in the bombing of the Jewish community center.

Ercolini’s indictment follows the release in September of a report by forensic experts who concluded that Nisman had been murdered. That finding contradicted the assessment of another team of experts who determined that Nisman had most likely killed himself.

Nisman’s accusation against Fernández and other top officials in her administration has received renewed attention since her party lost the presidency in 2015. President Mauricio Macri has said he believes that Nisman was murdered.

A separate criminal investigation into the bombing is continuing.

Fernández, who was recently sworn in as a senator, was charged with treason this month in connection with the bombing case. An appeals court recently ruled that the treason charge was not warranted, but it allowed the indictment against her and other officials to proceed.

As a senator, Fernández enjoys immunity from detention, which can be stripped only with the approval of two-thirds of the senators present at the time of the vote.