CreditRodrigo Abd/Associated Press
BUENOS AIRES — Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor whose mysterious death has gripped Argentina, had drafted a request for the arrest of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, accusing her of trying to shield Iranian officials from responsibility in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center here, the lead investigator into his death said Tuesday.
The 26-page document, which was found in the garbage at Mr. Nisman’s apartment, also sought the arrest of Héctor Timerman, Argentina’s foreign minister. Both Mrs. Kirchner and Mr. Timerman have repeatedly denied Mr. Nisman’s accusation that they tried to reach a secret deal with Iran to lift international arrest warrants for Iranian officials wanted in connection with the bombing.
The new revelation that Mr. Nisman had drafted documents seeking the arrest of the president and the foreign minister illustrates the heightened tensions between the prosecutor and the government before he was found dead on Jan. 18 at his apartment with a gunshot wound to his head. He had been scheduled the next day to provide details before Congress about his accusations against Mrs. Kirchner.
“It would have provoked a crisis without precedents in Argentina,” said Sergio Berensztein, a political analyst, about the impact of the arrest requests if they had been issued. He noted that previous legal cases had shaken Argentina’s political establishment, but he emphasized that this case involved a request to arrest a sitting president.
“It would have been a scandal on a level previously unseen,” Mr. Berensztein said.
Mrs. Kirchner, who is on a visit to China, issued a stream of updates on Twitter about strengthening ties between Buenos Aires and Beijing but did not comment immediately on the confirmation that Mr. Nisman had considered seeking her arrest. She and the foreign minister have previouslypointed to statements by Interpol’s former director that the Argentine government did not lobby it to lift the Iranian arrest warrants.
“It is totally baseless, the accusation of Mr. Nisman,” Mr. Timerman said in an interview here before the reports emerged that the prosecutor had considered seeking his arrest and that of Mrs. Kirchner. “Why didn’t he call Interpol to see if it was true? He didn’t.”
The draft of the arrest requests was not included in the 289-page criminal complaint against Mrs. Kirchner, the foreign minister and prominent supporters of the president that Mr. Nisman filed before his death. Mr. Nisman accused them of derailing his decade-long investigation into the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, commonly called AMIA, which left 85 people dead.
In his criminal complaint, Mr. Nisman accused Mrs. Kirchner and a group of her supporters of covering up a secret outreach effort to the Iranians, describing it as an attempt to derail his investigation, and he asked for their assets to be frozen.
Normally, a prosecutor in Argentina seeks an arrest out of concern that the people charged with crimes will try to corrupt the investigation or flee the country, according to Susana Ciruzzi, a professor of criminal law at the University of Buenos Aires who knew Mr. Nisman.
But in this case, some legal experts suspect that Mr. Nisman decided against requesting the arrest of Mrs. Kirchner because such a move would have been viewed as a political attack on the president in a case that had already polarized the nation.
Moreover, Mrs. Kirchner and Mr. Timerman have immunity as members of the executive branch. They could have been arrested only if a judge handling the case were to authorize a political trial similar to an impeachment process and ask Congress to lift their immunity, Ms. Ciruzzi said.
Two judges have refused to take the case put forward by Mr. Nisman, raising the possibility that his criminal complaint could languish in Argentina’s legal system if another judge is not found to continue it. A federal chamber is expected to decide who should take the case.
Mrs. Kirchner and senior officials have disputed Mr. Nisman’s findings, contending that agents from Argentina’s premier intelligence services were involved in preparing his complaint. In the uproar around the prosecutor’s death, Mrs. Kirchner announced a plan last week to overhaul the intelligence agency, after a purge of its leadership in December.
As the investigation into Mr. Nisman’s death continues, theories are swirling in Argentina about whether it was a suicide or a killing. Mrs. Kirchner has suggested that his death was part of a plot to tarnish her government.
Viviana Fein, the prosecutor investigating Mr. Nisman’s death, said Tuesday morning that Mr. Nisman had prepared the draft of the request for the president’s arrest. Confusion about the document emerged when Ms. Fein at first denied its existence, after the newspaper Clarín published an article on Sunday about the draft.
Mrs. Kirchner’s cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich, tore up the article before reporters on Monday. But then Ms. Fein corrected her earlier statement and confirmed the existence of the draft, which Clarín said had been prepared in June 2014, more than six months before Mr. Nisman went public with his accusations against the president.
“The words I should have used are, ‘It’s evident that there was a draft,’ ” Ms. Fein said in comments broadcast on Argentine radio.
After the confusion, Ms. Fein insisted she was not being pressured by Mrs. Kirchner’s government over the handling of the investigation.
“I do not receive pressure from the government or anyone,” she said. “I am independent.”
At the same time, Ms. Fein said Tuesday that she would take a vacation from Feb. 18 to March 5.
“It’s only 10 working days, and it’s not going to alter the course of the investigation,” Ricardo Sáenz, Ms Fein’s immediate superior, told local radio. Two prosecutors will replace Ms. Fein during her vacation, he said.
Legal experts emphasized that the draft found in Mr. Nisman’s apartment was not valid in an Argentine court of law, and needed more than just the prosecutor’s wishes to move forward in the legal system.
“It is not signed; it is a draft,” said María del Carmen Besteiro, head of the Buenos Aires Association of Lawyers. “Nisman was a prosecutor. The one who has to make the accusation and who has to decide it is a judge.”
Underscoring the tensions surrounding the death of Mr. Nisman, who was buried at a Jewish cemetery last week, anti-Semitic posters began appearing in central Buenos Aires this week.
“The good Jew is the dead Jew,” the posters read. “The good Jew is Nisman.”
Julio Schlosser, the president of the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations, said, “These posters represent a current of anti-Semitism seeking to insult the prosecutor Nisman, who worked and dedicated his life to the AMIA case.” He added, “It is also a provocation to the Jewish community.”