Argentina’s Jews Reel From New Twist in Terror Probe.
Wednesday’s allegations, filed as a federal criminal complaint, are the latest disappointment for relatives of the 85 people who died after a car bomb blew up outside a Jewish community center, one of the worst attacks against Jews since World War II. For years, officials including President Cristina Kirchner have pointed to Iran for allegedly carrying out the bombing. But the case is still unresolved.
Alberto Nisman, a federal prosecutor who has spent a decade investigating the attack, shocked Argentina by filing the complaint, which accuses Mrs. Kirchner, her foreign minister and others of secretly negotiating a deal with Tehran to offer immunity for Iranian suspects in exchange for Iranian oil. A judge must now decide whether to investigate the charges.
“I can’t deny that the criminal complaint affected me emotionally,” said Mariana Degtiar, whose brother died in the bombing. “I think we should be very cautious about this and let the justice system act. A lot has been done to ensure that we don’t discover the truth. Right now, I just can’t afford to lose my hope.”
Argentine officials denied the allegations. They said the only talks with Iran were related to creating a Truth Commission aimed at clarifying who was responsible for carrying out the bombing. Congress approved the creation of the commission in 2013; a court later struck it down as unconstitutional.
“This is truly absurd,” said Mrs. Kirchner’s cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich. He called the allegations “outrageous, illogical, and irrational” and said Mrs. Kirchner had displayed a long commitment to resolving the case.
At a news conference on Thursday, Jorge Capitanich, President Cristina Kirchner’s cabinet chief, rejected accusations that the government covered up a probe into a 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish center. ricardo ceppi / govt. chief pres/European Pressphoto Agency
Mr. Capitanich said Mr. Nisman’s accusations were part of a broader international conspiracy against Argentina involving multimedia groups, judges, prosecutors and both local and foreign intelligence services. The Iranian Embassy didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Nisman said he inadvertently uncovered evidence for the alleged plot while investigating the bombing. He said he has years of intercepted phone calls that provide “a great deal of evidence” for “a plan to illegally aid and fraudulently and definitively exonerate the Iranian suspects for the AMIA bombing.”
The alleged conspiracy was carried out behind closed doors and in secret meetings involving Mohsen Rabbani, a former cultural attaché at Iran’s Embassy in Buenos Aires. Mr. Rabbani is a suspect in the bombing and is the target of an Interpol arrest warrant.
Mr. Nisman claims to have evidence that Mrs. Kirchner used intermediaries to negotiate the sale of oil directly with Mr. Rabbani. Mr. Rabbani “was not only informed of these negotiations but also actively participated in them,” according to a document provided by the prosecutor’s office. “While plotters within Argentina’s executive branch spoke about justice and truth, they had already arranged immunity.”
Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, a federal judge who has been overseeing the case, questioned the wiretaps that Mr. Nisman used to accumulate evidence against Mrs. Kirchner and other officials. In a radio interview, the judge said he should have been consulted about the case but wasn’t. Mr. Nisman responded that the court had indeed authorized the intercepted calls.
The judge declined a request to comment.
Outside the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, the once-bombed gray building which was rebuilt after the attack and stands behind a fortress of thick cement and barricades put up to prevent car bombings, a couple of passersby on Thursday stopped to look at a list of names of those killed in the blast. Inside the building, the AMIA’s board of directors was digesting the news.
The group said it had met with the prosecutor but was awaiting additional details so it could fully understand the implications of his accusations.
“I wasn’t expecting the news and it really affected me,” said Sofia Guterman, whose daughter was killed in the attack. “More than 20 years have already gone by since the attack and we’ve always pressured the different governments and demanded justice, but all we’ve received is disillusionment.”
While the 1994 bombing has gone unresolved, so has another attack in 1992 on the Israeli Embassy in Argentina. It killed 29 people.
Israel’s embassy in Argentina said Mr. Nisman’s accusations should be resolved by Argentina’s justice system.
“The attacks against the AMIA and the Israeli Embassy have left an open wound for Argentina and the Israeli state, and especially for the families of the victims and survivors,” the embassy said in a statement. “All possible efforts should be done to find those who are responsible and provide justice.”
Like the bombings themselves, Mr. Nisman’s allegations have created concern outside Argentina.
“We are shocked by the news, and waiting for things to become clearer,” said Dina Siegel, director of Institute for Latino and Latin American Affairs at the global Jewish advocacy group American Jewish Committee. “But if there is a kernel of truth in this it really undermines the current Argentine government’s commitment to the cause of truth and justice.”
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representing Florida, said that if proved true, Mr. Nisman’s accusation would confirm Iran’s role in the bombing.
Some family members called for creating a commission with few politicians involved to get to the truth.
“In any serious country this would be a political debacle,” said Laura Guinsberg, whose husband died in the 1994 attack. “We’re proposing the creation of a commission of our own comprised of notable personalities, but with few politicians because they’re not trustworthy.”
—Ryan Dube and Alberto Messer contributed to this article.