Argentine Judge Dismisses Accusations Against President

An Argentine judge dismissed charges that President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner tried to cover up for the people behind the biggest terrorist attack in the country’s history, saying the evidence “clearly” contradicted some of the claims.

Prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita had accused Fernandez on Feb. 12 of seeking to remove Interpol arrest warrants against Iranian officials for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in exchange for trade deals. The attack led to the death of 85 people.

“It’s clear that neither of the two hypotheses of crime sustained by prosecutor Pollicita can be minimally sustained,” Judge Daniel Rafecas said in a statement on the judiciary’s website. “Far from sustaining the prosecutor’s version, the evidence gathered clearly and concisely refutes it.”

More than a quarter of a million people took to the streets of Buenos Aires last week in memory of the deceased prosecutor who had made the originally accusations, Alberto Nisman. The allegations and the mystery surrounding the death of Nisman, who was found with a bullet to the head on Jan. 18, threatened to overshadow Fernandez’s last year in office.

Nisman died the day before he was due to present evidence for his claims at a congressional hearing. Fernandez has denied the allegations, while her government has called the evidence “flimsy.” Pollicita subsequently took over the case.

Political Impact

The political crisis has eroded Fernandez’s popularity and benefited opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, ahead of presidential elections scheduled for October, according to a poll by Management & Fit conducted between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3. Fernandez, who is reaching the end of her second term, is barred from running for a third.

Macri led voting intentions for the first time with 27.9 percent of voter support against 23.6 percent for Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli of Fernandez’s Victory Front party. The poll showed 63.5 percent of participants disapproved of Fernandez, compared with 58.6 percent in a January poll. The survey of 2,400 people had a margin of error of two percentage points.

Even though Rafecas’s rejection of the accusations is likely to be appealed by Pollicita, thus keeping the case in the public eye, Fernandez can count the decision as a major victory that will help her regain some ground in public opinion, Eurasia Group’s Daniel Kerner said in an e-mailed note to clients.

“It seems unlikely that this will meaningfully boost the government’s popularity, but will help reduce public attention on this case, and thus limit the negative impact,” Kerner said.

While the judge’s decision eases some pressure on Fernandez, the case is likely to remain a factor in the elections since more than half of Argentines believe she is guilty, said Management & Fit Director Mariel Fornoni.

“There’s lots of skepticism about everything -- about the judges, the prosecutors, the politicians,” Fornoni said by phone. “People make their own judgments and that’s part of the seriousness of the situation.”

Argentine Rally

Hundreds of thousands of Argentines rallied under heavy rain last week to commemorate Nisman’s death, in a march organized by prosecutors.

Fernandez accused the prosecutors and judges of allying with the opposition to her government, labeling the march as the birth of a “Judicial Party” that was “linked to and promoted by the big media and big business.”

Nisman had been appointed by Fernandez’s late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, in 2004 to investigate the 1994 bombing.

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