Minor Characters Take The Stage In Argentina's Real-Life Murder Mystery | KUOW News and Information

Minor Characters Take The Stage In Argentina's Real-Life Murder Mystery

Feb 21, 2015
Originally published on February 23, 2015 12:33 pm

The locksmith. The journalist. The computer technician. The waitress. The carpenter.

They are a rotating cast of characters connected to prosecutor Alberto Nisman and the deepening mystery surrounding his death last month. Famous for a moment, they have fed Argentina's obsession with conspiracy.

"A lot of people have been discussing this in social media, how there are these particular characters that show up, and they grab our attention for a few days, and then they disappear," says Adrian Bono, a journalist and blogger. "These are kind of curious characters. When they go and talk to the media, they get a lot of attention because of what they say. Because something that we thought was true turns out it wasn't true."

The case of the dead prosecutor has riveted the country and caused a political crisis. At the time of his death, Nisman was investigating the country's worst-ever terrorist attack, a bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994 that killed 85 people. He had built a case showing that Iran masterminded the attack.

But then he accused the government of Argentina — the president and her ministers — of being involved in a cover-up because they wanted to cement an oil-for-grain deal with the Islamic Republic. Needless to say, the charges were explosive, and when Nisman was found with a bullet to the head, many believed it was murder.

The entire investigation has played out in the public realm, starting in the first few days after Nisman's death when a humble locksmith was called in to testify. He was brought in by Nisman's mother to open the door to her son's apartment when he didn't respond to phone calls.

The locksmith was immediately swarmed by reporters, and he said the door wasn't locked when he got there. Nisman's mother eventually refuted his claim, but everyone in Argentina used his words as evidence that something nefarious had happened.

The next figure to gain brief notoriety was journalist Damian Pachter, who broke the news of Nisman's death on Twitter. Then, suddenly, he told everyone that he was being followed and his life was in danger. He fled the country to Israel.

After that, a computer expert, who gave Nisman the gun found next to his dead body, became a subject of fascination. In a press conference, Diego Lagomarsino said Nisman asked him for the gun and he had nothing to do with the prosecutor's death. But that didn't stop one pro-government lawmaker from floating the idea that Nisman and Lagomarsino were secret lovers and that Nisman was killed during a lovers' spat.

And now the media are obsessing over a waitress and a carpenter.

Argentina has an unusual system in which people are picked up off the street and taken to crime scenes to act as impartial witnesses. A 26-year-old waitress and a carpenter were there during Nisman's crime scene investigation. They told the media that the crime scene was compromised, which set off another firestorm.

"Everything in Argentina has to be placed in a conspiracy theory. Everything," says Carolina Barros, a journalist and the former editor-in-chief of the Buenos Aires Herald.

She says even President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner came out on national television to give her conspiracy theories on Nisman's death. In cafes and bars, regular people are talking, too.

"Everybody is an expert on what's going on, and everybody is a Sherlock Holmes here," Barros says.

Part of this fascination has to do with Argentina's murky, bloody history. The country suffered a brutal dictatorship under which people disappeared and babies were stolen to be brought up by their parents' torturers. Conspiracy theories in Argentina often turn out to be true.

Barros says the interest in these characters has acted as a distraction.

"Some of them say 'A,' some of them say 'B,' and this is a great mess, a great soap opera, and what is going on regarding the truth?" Barros asks.

Jose Luis Fernandez, a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires, says people are concentrating on the frivolous to avoid thinking about the dark heart of the story — this all began with the murder of dozens of people in a bombing 20 years ago that is still unresolved.

And despite the endless stream of people appearing on television to discuss what they know about the case, many Argentines doubt they will ever find out what really happened to Nisman.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In Argentina the case of a dead prosecutor has riveted the country and caused a political crisis. Alberto Nisman was found in his apartment with a bullet to the head just over a month ago. That was after he accused Argentina's president of being involved in a cover-up. It is still not known how he died. The mystery deepens, the cast of characters fascinates and NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that Argentina is preoccupied with conspiracy.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The locksmith, the journalist, the computer technician, the waitress, the carpenter - no, this isn't a job fair.

ADRIAN BONO: This is a murder mystery. Every single day we discover there's a new development that could potentially change the entire case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And one of the strangest parts - these developments, or plot twists, says journalist Adrian Bono, come in the form of people.

BONO: A lot of people have been discussing this on social media, how there are these particular characters that show up and they grab our attention for a few days and then they disappear.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So bear with me here while I give you the background to a very complicated case. Alberto Nisman was a famous prosecutor in Argentina. He was investigating the country's worst-ever terror attack - a bombing of a Jewish community center in 1994. He built a case showing that Iran masterminded the attack. He then accused the government of Argentina, the president and some of her ministers of being involved in a cover-up because they wanted to cement an oil for grain deal with the Islamic Republic. Needless to say, the charges were explosive. And when he was found with a bullet to the head, many in Argentina believed it was murder. The entire investigation has played out in the public realm, starting in the first few days after Nisman's death when a humble locksmith was called in to testify. And he was swarmed by reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He'd been brought in by Nisman's mother to open the door to her son's apartment when he didn't respond to phone calls. The next figure to gain a brief notoriety was the journalist Damian Pachter. He broke the news of Nisman's death on Twitter and then suddenly he told everyone - again through the media - that he was being followed and his life was in danger and he fled the country to Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

DIEGO LAGOMARSINO: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: After that, a computer expert who gave Nisman the gun, which was found next to his dead body, became a subject of fascination. Diego Lagomarsino gave a teary press conference where he said Nisman had asked him for the gun and that he had nothing to do with the prosecutor's death.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And right now, as you can hear here, all the airwaves are obsessing over a waitress and a carpenter. Argentina has this unusual system where people are picked up off the street and taken to crime scenes to act as impartial witnesses. A 26-year-old waitress and a carpenter were there during Nisman's crime scene investigation. And, again through the media, they came out and said that the crime scene was compromised, which has set off another firestorm.

CAROLINA BARROS: Everything in Argentina has to be placed in a conspiracy theory - everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Carolina Barros is a journalist and the ex-editor-in-chief of the Buenos Aires Herald. She says even the president of the country, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, came out on national television giving her conspiracy theories on Nisman's death. And in the cafes and bars, regular people are talking, too.

BARROS: Everybody is an expert on what's going on and everybody is a Sherlock Holmes here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Part of this has to do with Argentina's murky, bloody history. It's suffered a brutal dictatorship, where people were disappeared, where babies were stolen to be brought up by their real parents' torturers. Conspiracy theories in Argentina often turn out to be true. Barros says, though, that all this interest in these characters has acted as a kind of distraction.

BARROS: Some of them say A, some of them say B, and this is a great mess, a great soap opera, and what is going on regarding the truth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jose Luis Fernandez is a sociologist at the University of Buenos Aires.

JOSE LUIS FERNANDEZ: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says people are concentrating on the frivolous to avoid thinking about the dark heart of this story. It began with the murder of dozens of people in a bombing that is still unresolved and despite the endless stream of characters appearing on TV to talk about what they know about the case, no one believes in Argentina that they will ever find out what really happened to Alberto Nisman. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.