January 15, 2015 / 6:53 PM / 3 years ago

Argentina judge slams prosecutor accusing Fernandez of Iran plot

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The judge handling the case of Argentina’s worst-ever bombing attack raised questions on Thursday about accusations against President Cristina Fernandez brought by a prosecutor who accused the two-term leader of trying to help the suspects avoid justice.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner gets a kiss from a supporter while holding a present given to her by a girl during the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) trade bloc annual presidential 47th summit in Parana, north of Buenos Aires December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

Alberto Nisman, the state prosecutor investigating the 1994 blast at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people said on Wednesday that Fernandez had opened a secret back channel to a group of Iranians suspected of planting the bomb.

He unveiled the claims against Fernandez and her foreign minister, saying the scheme intended to clear the suspects so Argentina could start swapping grains for much-needed oil from Iran.

But Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, the judge in charge of the 1994 bombing case, told state radio that he was not consulted as he should have been about the prosecutor’s investigation into Fernandez.

He also said evidence put forth by the state prosecutor, including recorded telephone calls in which Nisman says state security agents talked with the bombing suspects, was flawed.

“When the wiretaps are done without control, they are not irrefutable,” Canicoba Corral said. “Nisman took it upon himself to initiate an investigation without judicial control.”

The state attorney said the attempted whitewash of the bombing was part of a plan to use Iranian oil to narrow Argentina’s $7 billion per year energy deficit. Argentina has become a net energy importer as investment in the country’s oil sector has lagged amid heavy-handed government interventions in the market.

Argentine courts have accused Iran of sponsoring the bombing, a charge Iran denies. The country’s embassy in Buenos Aires had no comment on Thursday.

In 2013, Fernandez tried to form a “truth commission” with Iran to jointly investigate the bombing. She said at the time that the pact would reactivate the probe, but Israel and Jewish groups said it threatened to derail criminal prosecution of the case.

The truth commission pact was later struck down by an Argentine court.

Nisman said the truth commission was intended to help get Interpol arrest warrants dropped against five Iranian suspects as a step toward normalizing bilateral relations.

Argentina’s Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said Nisman’s allegations were “crazy, absurd, illogical, irrational, ridiculous, unconstitutional,” and orchestrated by opposition forces out to discredit Fernandez in the final year of her administration.

Argentina holds presidential elections in October. Fernandez is barred by law from running for a third consecutive term.

Additional reporting by Jorge Otaola, editing by Maximiliano Rizzi and G Crosse

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