Major Setback in Murder Investigation of Argentine Prosecutor

People gather outside the AMIA Jewish community center asking for "Justice" in the death of a prosecutor who had accused Argentinaís president of a criminal conspiracy, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 21
People gather outside the AMIA Jewish community center asking for "Justice" in the death of a prosecutor who had accused Argentinaís president of a criminal conspiracy, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 21 / AP

An Argentina high court said on Thursday that there is not enough evidence to prove that prosecutor Alberto Nisman was murdered, kicking the case back to a lower court judge, which is expected to rule that his mysterious death last year was a suicide.

"At the moment, it’s not possible to determine, with reasonable evidence, that the death of prosecutor Natalio Alberto Nisman was due to the actions of a third party," said the ruling by the Criminal Cassation Court on Thursday.

The case will be returned to Judge Fabiana Palmaghini, according to the Buenos Aires Herald. Palmaghini had previously recused herself amid accusations of bias and the expectation that she would rule Nisman’s death was a suicide.

Nisman was found dead in his apartment on Jan. 18, 2015, just hours before he was set to present evidence to the Argentine congress of a sweeping corruption case against Argentina’s then-president Cristina Kirchner. Nisman, who had been investigating Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, clashed with Kirchner, who was pushing for greater economic and diplomatic ties with Iran.

Documents found after Nisman’s death indicated that he was preparing to pursue charges against Kirchner. The prosecutor had been compiling a case that the Kirchner administration had agreed to cover up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing in exchange for lucrative trade deals with the regime.

The Buenos Aires Herald called the Criminal Cassation Court’s decision a "dramatic setback" for Nisman’s family and supporters:

The decision is a setback for Nisman’s family, who have repeatedly requested that the case be transferred to the Federal Court system — so that the murder hypothesis would be taken into account — a move which came to fruition last March. At that time, the Criminal Court had ruled plausible the hypothesis that former AMIA prosecutor was a homicide victim, as the plaintiffs claim. This, in turn, took place after Palmaghini had recused herself from the case, declaring herself "not competent" after ex-spymaster Antonio "Jaime" Stiuso testified that Nisman had been killed.

Nisman was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head, and a hidden service door to his apartment was found to be unlocked. In the weeks leading up to his death, he had been shadowed by a government security detail due to concerns about his personal safety. But at the time of his death, the bodyguards had reportedly taken the night off. Family members and close friends said he showed no sign of depression and was eager to go public with the allegations against the Kirchner administration.

Kirchner initially declared Nisman’s death a suicide in a statement, but soon backtracked and said the evidence indicated he was murdered. She suggested that someone might have killed Nisman in order to frame her and members of her administration.