World News

Former Interpol Chief Says Argentina Bungled Investigation of ’94 Attack

Posted December 15, 2017 10:46 p.m. EST

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — A former chief of Interpol says Argentina bungled the investigation into a 1994 terrorist attack at a Jewish community center, a crime that has newly roiled the country’s political establishment.

The crime has never been formally solved. In 2015, a special prosecutor concluded that it was likely that Argentine officials had colluded with Iran to cover up that country’s role in the attack, which killed 85 people.

But the prosecutor was killed in mysterious circumstances, and last week, a federal judge requested that a former president, Cristina Fernández, be arrested and charged with treason, saying she had taken part in the cover-up.

The judge made another startling claim, asserting that Ronald K. Noble, an American and a former New York University law professor who led the International Criminal Police Organization, known as Interpol, from 2000 to 2014, participated in the cover-up.

This week, Noble, an American citizen, vehemently rejected that claim, accusing the judge, Claudio Bonadio, of bringing forward a poorly investigated case. Noble said he was baffled that Bonadio did not bother to contact him before accusing him in a criminal proceeding of abetting a secret deal to get international fugitive records, known as red notices, rescinded as part of an effort to mend ties between Argentina and Iran.

“I was surprised that Judge Bonadio could have been so biased and issue a false, misleading and incomplete report,” Noble said in a series of email exchanges this week.

Noble’s rebuke is the latest twist in a yearslong quest to ascertain responsibility in the July 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Aid Association community center, known as the AMIA for the initials of its name in Spanish. The bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history.

Bonadio on Dec. 7 took the rare step of calling for the detention of Fernández, who was recently sworn in as a senator, calling her supposed effort to shield Iranians from facing justice a high crime.

Kirchner and the other defendants appealed the ruling this week and are set to return to court Tuesday for a hearing before a higher court.

Noble said he was stunned by how badly Argentine judicial officials had botched the investigation into the bombing.

“There has never been a case at Interpol with the kind of investigative, prosecutorial and judicial problems that have allowed a murderous terrorist attack where 85 persons were killed and many more wounded more than 20 years ago to go unpunished,” he said.

Since the ruling was issued, Bonadio has come under attack from all sides of the political spectrum. Experts and politicians have questioned the strength of his evidence and suggested that it may have been politically motivated.

Bonadio did not respond to a request for comment.

He is not the first to implicate Interpol in a cover-up in the bombing case. Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the bombing, made a similar allegation against Fernández shortly before he died under mysterious circumstances in January 2015. Nisman alleged that the Argentine government asked Interpol to pull red notices filed against Iranians as part of a deal that sought to expand commerce between the nations.

An investigation into Nisman’s death is continuing.

“There is no evidence to support Judge Bonadio’s conclusion that there existed some kind of secret agreement between Argentina and Interpol to remove the AMIA red notices,” Noble, 61, wrote. “If Judge Bonadio were interested in the truth, he could have contacted Interpol’s former general counsel.”

Bonadio suggested in his ruling that Noble might have enabled Fernández because the former Interpol chief had a “close relationship” with former Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, who was also charged with treason in the case last week. Timerman, who is undergoing cancer treatment, is under house arrest.