Buenos Aires: An Argentine prosecutor was found dead just hours before he had been due to give what was expected to be damning testimony against President Cristina Kirchner, in what appears to have been a suicide, officials said on Monday.
The body of Alberto Nisman, 51, who had received threats, was found overnight in his 13th-floor apartment in the upscale Puerto Madero waterfront neighbourhood of the capital Buenos Aires.
“All signs point to suicide,” said Public Safety Secretary Sergio Berni, an assertion backed up by initial forensic findings.
Federal prosecutor Viviana Fein said Mr Nisman died of “a gunshot wound to the temple” and “there was no role of additional parties [in the death]”.
However, there was no suicide note or witnesses, Ms Fein added, calling for “caution”, while the leader of one opposition party called it “an assassination”.
Investigators should look at whether Mr Nisman was under pressure from anybody, and who the gun belonged to, local media reports quoted Ms Fein as saying. The weapon was not Mr Nisman’s, the reports said.
Mr Nisman, who had accused Ms Kirchner of obstructing an investigation into a 1994 Jewish centre bombing, had been due to testify at a congressional hearing on Monday to provide evidence of his claims.
Since 2004 he had been investigating the van bombing of the Argentine Jewish Charities Federation, or AMIA, which left 85 people dead and 300 others wounded in the worst attack of its kind in the South American country.
Ms Kirchner had denied the accusation.
Anibal Fernandez, secretary general for the presidency, said he was “dumbfounded” by Mr Nisman’s death, adding there was “absolutely nothing normal” about it.
Ms Kirchner, in a statement released through her intelligence minister, Oscar Parrilli, ordered the declassification of intelligence information Mr Nisman had sought a week ago.
Israel meanwhile expressed sorrow over Mr Nisman’s death, praising him as a courageous jurist who “worked with great determination to expose the attack’s perpetrators and dispatchers”.
Officials said a .22-calibre handgun was found beside Mr Nisman’s body, which was discovered by his mother in the bathroom of his apartment after his security detail was unable to contact him.
As well as pointing the finger at Ms Kirchner, Mr Nisman had also been expected to lodge accusations against her foreign minister, Hector Timerman.
The prosecutor had accused Iran of being behind the attack and said Ms Kirchner hampered the inquiry to curry favour with the Islamic republic and gain access to its oil.
Mr Nisman had also accused former president Carlos Menem (1989-99) of helping obstruct the investigation into the bombing, which has never been solved.
Since 2006, Argentine courts have demanded the extradition of eight Iranians, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, over the bombing.
Argentina charges that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement, carried out the attack under orders from Iran, which Tehran denies.
Mr Nisman had said that he had phone recordings that allegedly show the Kirchner government and Argentine authorities had bowed to Iranian demands after Tehran dangled lucrative commercial contracts.
Mr Nisman had been supposed to present proof of his allegations that Ms Kirchner and Mr Timerman had a “plan of impunity” to “protect the Iranian fugitives”.
He had also ordered the freezing of assets worth some $US23 million of Ms Kirchner, Mr Timerman and other officials.
Opposition lawmaker Patricia Bullrich said she was shocked by Mr Nisman’s death, calling it “a grave affront to the country’s institutions”.
Ms Bullrich said she had spoken to Mr Nisman on the phone on Saturday on three occasions and he said that he had received several threats.
Elisa Carrio, leader of the Civic Coalition, an opposition party, bluntly called Mr Nisman’s death “an assassination”, saying she did not accept that it was a suicide.
In 2013, Argentina’s Congress approved, at the request of the executive branch, an agreement with Tehran to form a truth commission to investigate the bombing, consisting of five members from neither Argentina nor Iran.
The Jewish centre bombing came two years after an attack against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29 people.
Argentina’s Jewish community of about 300,000 people is the largest in Latin America.