By Ben Cohen
Argentina offered to supply Iran with nuclear expertise and technology as part of a secret pact exonerating the Tehran regime of responsibility for the July 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish center, a former Argentine intelligence operative told a court in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.
Eighty-five people were killed and hundreds more wounded in the bombing in the Argentine capital, which was coordinated by Iran and its Lebanese Shia proxy Hezbollah.
The former agent, Ramon Bogado, told an inquiry into the collusion between Iran and the government of former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner that the offer of nuclear assistance had been communicated to the Iranians by officials in Venezuela.
Presenting 18 documents to the court which he said detailed the nuclear offer, Bogado — a former agent with the SIDE national intelligence agency — added that it addressed how Iran could circumvent international sanctions to receive nuclear technology. Argentina, which began its own domestic nuclear program in the 1960s, is considered a global leader in nuclear technology.
Bogado told the court that the plans drawn up by officials in the Kirchner government included a provision to create shell companies in Argentina and Uruguay to conduct the transactions with Iran. He stressed that officials at the highest level had known about the scheme, among them Francisco “Paco” Larcher, who served as Kirchner’s deputy secretary of intelligence.
Bogado’s testimony came at the beginning of a series of appearances before Argentine federal judge Claudio Bonadio, who will hear from fifteen of the individuals named in a complaint against the Kirchner government that was to have been submitted in January 2015 by late Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman. The 51-year-old Nisman was found murdered in his apartment the night before he was due to unveil the complaint before the Argentine Congress.
Nisman’s decade-long investigation into the AMIA bombing resulted in the issuance of “red notices” in 2007 by Interpol, the international law enforcement agency, for five Iranians and one Hezbollah operative in connection with the atrocity. However — as Bogado’s Wednesday testimony appeared to confirm — Nisman’s investigation was increasingly regarded as an irritant by Kirchner’s key aides after she took over the presidency from her late husband, Nestor, in December 2007. Cristina Kirchner’s overall turn toward Iran, reportedly under the influence of the late Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, was the key political condition for the pact, Bogado told the court.
Eamonn MacDonagh — an expert on Argentine politics who has written widely on the AMIA case — told The Algemeiner on Wednesday that Bogado’s revelations suggested the motives behind the deal with Iran were even more sinister than Nisman himself had believed.
“Nisman’s original accusation stated that the quid pro quo for sweeping AMIA under the carpet would be an oil-for-grain deal,” MacDonagh said. “There was probably something like that involved, but maybe only as an opportunity for those involved to make some money.”
He continued: “The strategic motivation seems to have been some sort of a global ploy on the part of Chavez to use his influence with Cristina to get Argentine nuclear technology to Iran, and thereby strike a blow against the US.”
The appearances before Bonadio will culminate on October 26, when Cristina Kirchner herself is scheduled to give testimony — just four days after her likely win in midterm elections for the Argentine Senate would grant her immunity from arrest.
Some of the individuals summoned by Bonadio have already expressed the fear that they will be detained immediately after appearing before him. Luis D’Elia — a political activist and confidante of Kirchner’s who is due to appear on Thursday – told a Buenos Aires radio program that he expected “to be imprisoned without any judicial argument, and unfortunately I think what’s coming will be very hard.” Meanwhile, D’Elia’s colleague, alleged Iran lobbyist Yussuf “Jorge” Khalil, refused to testify after arriving at Bonadio’s courtroom on Wednesday. Khalil issued a statement denying that he had ever having been a representative of Iran, adding his view that many of the wiretaps of Kirchner officials in conversation obtained by Nisman as part of his investigation were “manipulated and biased.”
The first individual to testify before Bonadio — former Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, who appeared on Tuesday — also refused to answer the court’s questions. A 160-page dossier prepared by Timerman’s lawyers flatly denied that, as foreign minister in 2012, he had negotiated the pact with then-Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi at a secret meeting in the Syrian city of Aleppo personally hosted by the Iranian-backed dictator, Bashar al-Assad. Timerman also claimed during a two-hour monologue that the initiative for the pact with the Iranians had come from Interpol, and that Nisman had been aware of this.
MacDonagh said that the immediate likely outcome of the testimony and documents supplied by Bogado would be “more subpoenas of persons and documents connected to the Kirchner government and the pact.” He added that the current political climate in Argentina remained unfavorable to Kirchner and her supporters, with the centrist government of President Mauricio Macri expected to win comfortably in the October 22 midterms.