Argentinian prosecutor feared pro-government fanatics, says employee
Exclusive: Lawyers for Diego Lagomarsino, the last person to speak to Alberto Nisman before he died, say he’s being made a scapegoat
Jonathan Watts and Uki Goñi in Buenos Aires
Saturday 31 January 2015 11.00 GMT
The Argentinian prosecutor who was found dead after accusing the country’s president of conspiring to cover up the country’s deadliest terror attack was more afraid of fanatical government sympathisers than foreign terrorists, according to the last person known to have spoken to him before his death.
Alberto Nisman was found lying in a pool of blood in his bathroom on 18 January – the day before he was due to formally present to Congress his allegation that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had plotted to cover up Iran’s involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre that killed 85 people.
Diego Lagomarsino, who lent Nisman the gun which killed him, said the lawyer confided his fears in an emotional encounter in which he also expressed his suspicions of his own security detail and fears for the safety of his two daughters.
“He wasn’t afraid of terrorists. He was afraid of fanatics who might attack his car with sticks while he was driving his daughters,” the 38-year-old told The Guardian.
In his first media interview since he handed himself in to the courts for questioning, Lagomarsino – an IT specialist at Nisman’s office – gave a detailed account of his relationship with the late prosecutor and their last meeting.
Forensic experts have determined that the .22-calibre bullet which killed Nisman came from Lagomarsino’s gun, although investigators have yet to rule whether the death was a suicide or murder.
Spies, cover-ups and the mysterious death of an Argentinian prosecutor
The incident has unleashed a political storm, and a flood of speculation: government loyalists, disgruntled intelligence officials, Hezbollah, Iranian spies and Mossad have all been suggested as potential culprits.
President Fernández has publicly preempted the official investigation by claiming Nisman was murdered and pointing the finger at rogue spies – and Lagomarsino.
“He’s the last person who saw him alive, who talked to him and who furthermore had his intimate trust, his intimate friendship, and who, we’ve been able to learn, went assiduously to his apartment,” Fernández said in a TV address to the nation on Monday.
Lagomarsino’s lawyers say their client is being made a scapegoat, and have advised him to speak out despite a request from investigators to keep quiet.
“I’m all they had, and they took advantage of my silence,” Lagomarsino said over a conference table in his lawyer’s office on Thursday. “It has reached a point where I have started to feel scared. People are saying things about me that aren’t true.”
Argentinian newspapers have claimed he is a spy in league with the former general director of operations at the Intelligence Secretariat Antonio Stiuso, whom the president fired last December for working with Nisman to build a case against her. Furthering these allegations, presidential spokesman Anibal Fernandez has said that Lagomarsino was seen filming protesters at a demonstration several years ago. Former airport police chief Marcelo Sain – who is now a legislator for a pro-government party – told The Guardian earlier this week that he met Lagomarsino some time ago and was convinced he was a spy.
But Lagomarsino – who spoke at some length in the presence of his lawyer – denied these allegations, saying he never knew Stiuso, never attended or filmed the demonstration and never met Sain. “I am not a spy,” he said.
In response to the president’s suspicions against Lagomarsino, the chief investigator said this week that he is not suspected of a major crime. But he has been accused of firearm violations and clearly feels under pressure. Guarded by at least four police, Lagomarsino said he has cried a great deal and tried to shut himself off.
“I decided not to watch TV, read newspapers or access the internet. It was a form of self-protection. I felt bad. I felt overwhelmed.”
Maximiliano Rusconi, his lawyer, said the president’s intervention was very damaging.
“She sent all government officials and sympathetic journalists to make Lagomarsino out to be a very shady character. They are trying to generate suspicion around the figure of Lagomarsino and to suggest that he was a long-time agent of the intelligence services. This is totally false. It is very strange for such lies to come out of the president’s mouth,” said Rusconi. “I think that we will soon see the Lagomarsino thesis as another attempt to cover up the death of Nisman.”
The IT specialist, who learned his trade at Salta Catholic University in Buenos Aires, says he started working at the Nisman family home in 2004 and then got a job at his office in 2007.
It was a well-paid position. Lagomarsino earned 40,000 pesos (£3,000 or $4,500) each month, though he rarely had to be in the office. “I went once a week or once a month or when he called.”
He was one of three IT specialists in Nisman’s office, but said he was the most trusted because he had known the prosecutor longer and was the quickest to respond to his requests.
His role, he said, was network security and backing up data. He declined to divulge the nature of the information, but it is reasonable to assume much of it was highly sensitive because Nisman’s case was built on wiretaps.
He said his boss was never suicidal but was subject to mood swings. “He was either calm or angry. For example, when I was fixing something in his house, he would sometimes get furious and then call me later to apologise,” he recalled.
On 17 January, Nisman called him to his apartment, where, Lagomarsino says, he asked to borrow a gun. The IT specialist said he was dumbfounded and asked his boss why he wanted a firearm – particularly as he already had a ten-man security detail.
“He said, ‘I don’t trust my security anymore.’
“Then he broke down and became very emotional. ‘Do you know what it’s like for my own daughters to be scared of being with me because they’re scared something could happen to them?,’” Lagomarsino recounted.
Largomarsino drove back to his apartment, packed some ammunition and a Bersa handgun – which he said had not been fired for more than ten years – and then returned to Nisman’s compound, where he was taken up to the 13th floor apartment by one of the security guards.
Over coffee, he showed his boss how to use the gun. “He tested it. He loaded it. Then he emptied it and wrapped it back up in green microfibre cloth and left it on the arm of the chair. He told me, ‘I’ll keep it in the safe tonight, and tomorrow I’ll put it in the glove compartment of my car.’”
Largomarsino says he left the apartment by the main door at around 8pm on that Saturday night and they exchanged a last few words. “I asked ‘When will I see you?’ He replied, ‘After Monday.’”
The following night, Nisman’s body was found.
Argentina prosecutor laid to rest as protesters demand 'Justice for Nisman'
At Nisman’s funeral on Thursday at the Jewish cemetery of La Tablada, his former wife Sandra Arroyo Salgado – who is a judge – insisted her ex-husband was the victim of a plot. “Those of us who know you know this was not your decision. None of us believe that you were the maker of this end. We are certain this was the work of someone else. We don’t know who,” she said.
Lagomarsino has not talked to her since the death and said he feared she may blame him.
“Perhaps I should have said no to his request for a gun,” he says. “I don’t know the word for what I feel. I don’t know if it is guilt or a sense of moral responsibility.
“I had to watch the funeral on television. I looked up at the sky and said, ‘I’m sorry I’m not there,’” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I would like the truth to be known. I hope he rests in peace.”
Argentine Leader Pleads For Unity During Inquiry
By JONATHAN GILBERT
JAN. 30, 2015
BUENOS AIRES — In a veiled reference to the fallout from the mysterious death of a federal prosecutor this month, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina blamed unspecified forces on Friday for provoking upheaval, pleading with Argentines to remain united and to “not let them bring conflicts here that are causing desolation, death and strain on other countries.”
Mrs. Kirchner’s comments came after she moved this week to overhaul Argentina’s top intelligence agency, saying she believed that rogue spies had a hand in the death of the prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, whose body was found in his luxury Buenos Aires apartment on Jan. 18, a pistol on the floor next to him. It is unclear if his death was suicide or murder.
In a statement Friday, Viviana Fein, the prosecutor leading the investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death, said that only his DNA had been found on items taken from his apartment for laboratory tests, including the pistol.
Right before his death, Mr. Nisman had filed accusations against Mrs. Kirchner, claiming that in exchange for Iranian oil, she ordered secret negotiations to shield Iranian officials from charges that they planned the fatal bombing of a Jewish center here in 1994. The government has rejected the accusations, claiming that Iran could not have provided Argentina with the refined oil it required and pointing to a statement from Interpol’s former secretary general that said Argentina had never requested the lifting of arrest warrants for the Iranians, as Mr. Nisman had claimed. He had taken over the case in 2005 after years of inquiry marred by delays and corruption charges.
Mrs. Kirchner has suggested that rogue spies, in a plot to destabilize the government, manipulated Mr. Nisman and had a hand in his death.
In her second public appearance since Mr. Nisman’s death, Mrs. Kirchner gave a televised speech in which she mostly spoke about her government’s achievements and discussed policy developments.
But she also spoke out against unspecified influences that she claimed had sought to wreak havoc. “Here I am,” she said, comparing her plight to that of a naval ship in battle. “A little damaged, but never sunken.”
She also seemed to cast new suspicion on Diego Lagomarsino, an aide to Mr. Nisman who lent him the .22-caliber Bersa pistol used in the shooting. Mrs. Kirchner has called him a “ferocious opponent” of the government, and her chief of staff has suggested that Mr. Lagomarsino is linked to the intelligence services.
Mr. Nisman was buried on Thursday. In an address at the funeral, Waldo Wolff, the vice president of a Jewish umbrella organization, pointed to the failure of Argentina’s institutions to solve the 1994 case. He said Mr. Nisman’s death had “lifted the rubble” left by the attack to reveal the “dark labyrinths of power.”