Victory for Argentine leader as judge rejects cover-up case
Investigators found a draft of an arrest warrant for Argentina's president in the apartment of the deceased prosecutor who accused her of a cover-up.
Argentina's Public Prosecutor Alberto Nisman gives a news conference in Buenos Aires on May 20, 2009. The Public Prosecutor's office on Wednesday released the portrait of Colombian national Samuel Salman El Reda, accused of being one of the leaders of local connection that carried out the terrorist attack against Jewish-Argentine organization AMIA on July 18, 1994, killing 85 people and wounding another 300. AFP PHOTO/JUAN MABROMATA (Photo credit should read JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)
Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman gives a press conference at the presidential palace Casa Rosada, in Buenos Aires, on January 15, 2015 a day after prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Timerman himself and other government officials for an alleged plan to cover Iran of its responsibilities in the bombing of the AMIA Jewish centre in 1994. Nisman asked Fernandez de Kirchner, Timerman and others, be investigated for the cover up of the attack on the Argentine Jewish Charities Federation (AMIA) that left 85 people dead and 300 others injured. AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images)
Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, sitting in a wheelchair, leads a signing ceremony at the Casa Rosada government palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Fernandez said Friday that she will voice all the opinions she wants to about the case of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead on Jan. 18, hours before he was to elaborate on his accusation that Fernandez protected those responsible for a 1994 terror bombing. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Argentine deputy for the ruling party Andres Larroque, one of the people involved in the case late prosecutor Alberto Nisman was due to present before the congress the day after the day he died, gives the thumbs up during a ceremony of President Cristina Kirchner with provincial governors, in Buenos Aires, on January 30, 2015. President Cristina Kirchner on Monday said that she will disband Argentina's intelligence service after a prosecutor was found dead just hours before he was to make explosive allegations against her. AFP PHOTO / ALEJANDRO PAGNI (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken in March 2008 shows Iran's defense minister-designate Ahmad Vahidi in Tehran. Vahidi is being sought by Interpol in connection with the worst terrorist attack on Argentine soil, the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charities headquarters building, Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman said on August 21, 2009. AFP PHOTO/FARS NEWS (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A woman holds a placard that reads 'I Am Nisman' during a rally in front of the headquarters of the AMIA (Argentine Israelite Mutual Association), in Buenos Aires on January 21, 2015, to protest against the death of Argentine public prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found shot dead earlier, just days after accusing President Cristina Kirchner of obstructing a probe into a 1994 Jewish center bombing that killed 85 peiople and injured another 300. Nisman, 51, who was just hours away from testifying at a congressional hearing, was found dead overnight in his apartment in the trendy Puerto Madero neighbourhood of the capital. 'I can confirm that a 22-caliber handgun was found beside the body,' prosecutor Viviana Fein said. The nation's top security official said Nisman appears to have committed suicide. AFP PHOTO / Alejandro PAGNI (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images)
Diego Lagomarsino, information specialist who gave late prosecutor Alberto Nisman the gun that killed him, speaks to reporters during a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. Lagomarsino said that Nisman feared for the safety of his adult daughters and didn't trust the policemen protecting him. Lagomarsino, a long-time acquaintance of Nisman, said the prosecutor asked him if he had a gun, telling him he wanted the gun to protect his daughters. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Viviana Fein, who leads the investigation of prosecutor Alberto Nisman's death, speaks with reporters outside her office, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. The death of the prosecutor who had accused ArgentinaÃs President Cristina Fernandez of a criminal conspiracy came under mounting questions Wednesday with the discovery that the apartment where he was found dead had not been securely locked and had a third entrance. Fernandez who initially believed the prosecutor had taken his own life, said Thursday that she is now Ã¬convincedÃ® Nisman did not commit suicide. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Spanish "I am Nisman" during a protest sparked by the death of special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, outside the government house in Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. The other signs read "Enough Cristina," left, and "Thank you Nisman." Nisman, who had been investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people and who accused President Cristina Fernandez of shielding Iranian suspects, was found dead with a gunshot to his head in the bathroom of his apartment late Sunday, hours before he was to testify in a Congressional hearing about the case. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- A federal judge on Thursday firmly dismissed allegations that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez tried to cover up the involvement of Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center, easing a crisis for her government fed by the death of the prosecutor who brought the case.
Judge Daniel Rafecas said the documents originally filed by the late prosecutor Alberto Nisman failed to meet "the minimal conditions needed to launch a formal court investigation."
"There is not a single element of evidence, even circumstantial, that points to the actual head of state," the judge said.
Nisman had filed the complaint just days before he died on Jan. 18 under mysterious circumstances. Polls show many Argentines suspect officials had some hand in the death, though Fernandez and aides have suggested the death was actually aimed at destabilizing her government.
While the decision can be appealed, the judge's scathing wording appears to substantiate government insistence that Nisman's case was baseless, though his death still casts a shadow across the administration.
"Rafecas' decision gives the government some breathing room," said Roberto Bacman, director of the Center for Public Opinion Studies, a South American research firm. Before Thursday's decision, "the government had only been receiving bad news."
Tens of thousands of Argentines marched through the capital last week demanding answers a month after he was found in his bathroom with a bullet in his head.
Nisman had asked judges to authorize a formal criminal investigation of the president, Foreign Minister Hector Timerman and other figures on allegations that they agreed to grant impunity for eight Iranians accused in the attack on the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association in which 85 people died. In return, he said, Iran would increase trade with Argentina.
The prosecutor who took over the case after Nisman's death, Gerardo Pollicita, renewed his request.
Rafecas also rejected Nisman's theory that the deal was linked to an agreement for the two countries to jointly investigate the bombing. He noted that the 2013 agreement, scuttled by Congress, never took effect.
Investigators say they are trying to determine if Nisman was killed or committed suicide.
The president initially suggested the 51-year-old prosecutor had killed himself, then did an about-face a few days later, saying she suspected he had been slain.
She suggested that he might have been manipulated by disgruntled rouge intelligence agents, and pushed through a law to reform the spy service immediately after Nisman's death. Congress gave final approval to the measure earlier Thursday.
"Even with the dismissal of the charges against her, there are still questions about who killed Nisman," said Shannon O'Neal, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations a U.S.-based foreign-policy think tank.
While the decision will no doubt be scrutinized in very polarized Argentina, many constitutional lawyers had argued in recent months that Nisman's case was weak.
Rafecas, 46, is a recognized expert on the Holocaust with a reputation as a champion of civil rights for many cases he has overseen involving crimes during the country's military dictatorship that ended in 1983.
While he was appointed to the federal bench in 2004 by Fernandez's predecessor and husband, the late President Nestor Kirchner, Rafecas has also overseen cases against the current government, making enemies along the way.
The respect he has in the Jewish community, one of the largest outside of Israel, will also go a long way toward getting people to accept the decision.
Rafecas' ruling "deserves the the utmost respect," said Julio Schlosser, president of the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations.
Fernandez also shuffled her Cabinet on Thursday, replacing three ministers with close aides.
Anibal Fernandez, who had been the presidency's general secretary, will replace Jorge Capitanich as Cabinet chief. Fernandez's post will now be taken by Eduardo De Pedro, a lawmaker and leader of La Campora, a political group that is ultra-loyal to the president and that is led by her son, Maximo Kirchner.
The center-left government also named Daniel Gollan as new health minister. He replaces Juan Manzur, who is expected to run for governor in his home state of Tucuman during the October elections.
"It's quite possible that the Cabinet reshuffle is connected to Nisman scandal but it's also her last administration," O'Neal said. "Argentina is heading into a series of gubernatorial elections and presidential elections in the fall so this is also a time of lots of political maneuvering."