- - Sunday, March 6, 2016

BUENOS AIRES — A lurid political scandal that is part soap opera and part murder mystery is thrusting leftist former President Cristina Fernandez back into the spotlight as explosive charges have emerged in the death of a noted prosecutor a year ago.

But the revival of the scandal could also pose problems for new President Mauricio Macri, Ms. Fernandez’s center-right successor, rekindling partisan tensions and old feuds at a time when Mr. Macri hopes to move the country in a radically new direction.

Sensational testimony from a key witness last week put Ms. Fernandez back in the crosshairs of the investigation into the death of Alberto Nisman, the federal prosecutor whose body was found in January 2015 days after he accused Ms. Fernandez of a cover-up of Iran’s suspected involvement in a 1990s terrorist bombing in the heart of the Argentine capital.

Jaime Stiuso, a former high-ranking counterintelligence official who left the country shortly after Nisman’s death, last week told Criminal Judge Fabiana Palmaghini that the prosecutor stood in the way of Argentine-Iranian nuclear collaboration pushed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and that Quebracho — a leftist group with ties to the Fernandez administration, Caracas and Tehran — likely assassinated him.

Nisman’s still-unsolved death ignited one of the biggest political scandals this country has seen in decades. He was found alone in his Buenos Aires apartment dead from a single gunshot to the temple the morning of Jan. 18, 2015, just hours before he was set to detail his case against the Fernandez government to Congress. An autopsy found he had been dead since the previous day.

The spy made his accusations after Buenos Aires chief prosecutor Ricardo Saenz ruled out a suicide by Nisman, and they helped revive the dormant case, which Judge Palmaghini has now turned over to federal jurisdiction.

But the new headlines are also likely to cause headaches for Mr. Macri, whose calls for national unity hinge on support from a congressional opposition dominated by his predecessor’s Front for Victory. A revival of the Nisman saga could bring a quick end to his political honeymoon.

The Nisman saga is picking up steam in the midst of an internal Front for Victory battle between hard-liners determined to derail Mr. Macri and moderates who say they are willing to work with the new president — a division that Sen. Juan Manuel Abal Medina, a key figure within the bloc, acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Times.

Any appetite to set aside partisan bickering could well be diminished if Ms. Fernandez — the subject of several high-profile criminal investigations — is dragged through an embarrassing ordeal like the search warrant executed Friday on her Brazilian counterpart, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Rising anger

Anger over the new testimony seemed to boil over Thursday when Oscar Parrilli, a close Fernandez confidant and Mr. Stiuso’s former boss as head of the Intelligence Secretariat, urged that “they better protect Stiuso, so that what happened to Nisman doesn’t happen to him” — a remark he himself later qualified.

Although insisting that justice must run its course, Mr. Abal Medina questioned why Ms. Fernandez has been directly implicated in so many cases, a circumstance he said pointed to “vindictiveness” within Argentina’s highly politicized judicial system.

“This complicates the situation without any doubt,” the senator said, given that Ms. Fernandez is still the bloc’s “most important” figure. “She is no longer the undisputed leader, but she is not ‘one more voice’” either, he said.

Although Ms. Fernandez’s legal troubles may strengthen the resolve among the most loyal backers of the former president and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, they are also bound to weaken her position within the larger Peronist movement, said Mariano de Vedia, a political analyst for the La Nacion daily.

The Nisman case and other scandals dating back to her tenure “will have a strong impact,” Mr. de Vedia said, noting that a number of Fernandez lawmakers already have deserted to other Peronist factions in the lower house of Congress. “The Kirchnerist movement is not going to have a good time.”

A deep split in the leftist opposition forces could actually play into Mr. Macri’s hands, Mr. Abal Medina said.

“The government’s dream is to divide Peronism,” he said. “And if they achieve that, we will have Macri for a while.”

Meanwhile, the senator — who at the time of Argentina’s 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran served as Ms. Fernandez’s Cabinet chief — denied the accusations made by Nisman and Mr. Stiuso that the agreement with Iran had nefarious objectives beyond its stated goal of setting up a truth commission to investigate the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center.

Cautioning that he had not participated in talks with Tehran, Mr. Abal Medina said he had no indication that the Venezuelan government was involved or that Chavez pushed nuclear cooperation with Iran in any other way. Ms. Fernandez’s intent, he said, was merely to find the culprits of the terrorist attack that killed 85 citizens.

But just that original AMIA investigation, on hold since Nisman’s death, is now once again largely being overlooked amid the intrigue of Mr. Stiuso’s accusations and their political fallout. Mr. de Vedia said he had little hope that the case would ever be resolved.

Mr. Abal Medina, though, insisted that both the investigations of the AMIA attack and the 1992 suicide bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires needed to continue. “We have these two embarrassments in Argentina,” he said. “We want the culprits to pay — whoever they are.”

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