World
Alberto Nisman and Argentina’s History of Assassinations and Suspicious Suicides
Whether the crusading prosecutor's death is found to be a suicide or homicide, many Argentines probably won't believe it. The past has taught them to always look for the sinister explanation
 
A year and a half ago, I talked to Alberto Nisman, the Argentine special prosecutor whose mysterious death has made international headlines.
 
I didn't know Nisman, but I knew the case he was investigating: the terrorist bombing that killed 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994.
 
As a foreign correspondent, I had done a lot of reporting on the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the history of the hemisphere. I interviewed survivors, investigators, diplomats, spies and shady characters from Latin America, the U.S. and the Middle East about an investigation plagued by corruption and cover-ups. Years later, I had watched from afar when Nisman succeeded in indicting Iranian officials and Hezbollah terrorists and securing Interpol warrants for them.
 
Nisman's startling death last month left Argentina, a country for which I have great fondness, in turmoil. Sadly, that's not unusual. The history of Argentina, and much of Latin America, is a chronicle of skullduggery: assassinations, massacres, scandals, frame-ups, convenient "accidents," staged "suicides." The Nisman case grows out of a labyrinth of lies and intrigue where almost everything seems possible except establishing facts, and almost nothing is what it seems.
 
Describing the elusive, chaotic reality of a South American nation, a U.S. law enforcement chief once told me: "The lights are going out in the house of mirrors."
 
Although he wasn't talking about Argentina, the image applies.
 
In the summer of 2013, I interviewed Nisman by phone and email. I agreed to meet him in Washington, D.C., where a congressional committee had invited him to testify about Iran's spy network in Latin America and its alleged role in a plot to bomb John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. At the last minute, though, the Argentine government blocked his trip. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had agreed months earlier with Iranian leaders to set up a joint "truth commission" about the case, part of a geopolitical shift toward Iran and Venezuela.
 
Nisman and many others feared his own government intended to scuttle his prosecution. In an email to me on July 10, 2013, he wrote: "I followed the [Congressional] hearing on the web and I was very sorry I couldn't be there."
 
His troubles got worse. Last December, the government fired a powerful spy chief who was Nisman's lead investigator. The prosecutor retaliated with a bombshell: He accused the president, her foreign minister and other political figures of conspiring to absolve the accused Iranians in exchange for commercial deals. Iranian diplomat Mohsen Rabbani, a top suspect in the 1994 attack, participated in secret talks, according to Nisman's criminal complaint.
 
Argentine spies "negotiated with Mohsen Rabbani," an indignant Nisman said in a television interview on Jan. 14. "Not just with the state that protects the terrorists, but also with the terrorists."
 
The Argentine government denied his allegations.
 
Four days later, the prosecutor's police bodyguards found his corpse in the bathroom of his high-rise apartment, shot in the head at point blank range with a .22-caliber pistol. He had borrowed the gun from an aide the previous evening, saying he was worried about threats. His death came the day before he planned to testify in the Argentine National Congress about his 290-page complaint.
 
Suicide remains a possibility. Authorities say there was no sign of a struggle or intruders. The workaholic 51-year-old was under great pressure. But Nisman's family, colleagues and others, including political opposition leaders, say he was murdered. There was no suicide note. He spent his last days preparing his legislative testimony and talking about it with associates, politicians and journalists.
 
Why would Nisman kill himself at a landmark moment? If he did, was he driven to it by blackmail and threats, or a devastating revelation that hurt his case? If it was murder, did it result from feuds in the intelligence community pitting presidential loyalists against spies aligned with Western agencies? Which faction would benefit from his death?
 

Enduring Tradition: the 'Liberated Zone'

 
The persistence of state-connected violence and intrigue in Argentina goes way back. As in other Latin American nations, criminal mafias flourish. They often have links to security forces and roots in the military dictatorship that ended in 1983.
 
Manipulation reaches extremes capable of causing paranoia. Consider the practice known as an "operetta:" Police team up with hoodlums for robberies, split the loot, then ambush their partners and claim a victory against crime. During a wave of robberies of upscale nightspots in Buenos Aires in 1998, stick-up men killed a police officer guarding a restaurant. It turned out the killers were serving prison sentences. Guards ran a scheme in which they sneaked inmates out long enough to commit robberies, then return with the perfect alibi: They were officially behind bars.
 
Tactics and terminology of the "dirty war" linger. During the dictatorship, uniformed police assisted death squads by withdrawing from the area around a target and establishing a perimeter to create a "liberated zone." Argentines still use that phrase to describe police involvement in mafia activity. Breakdowns in Nisman's security – it took his bodyguards 10 hours to enter his apartment after he failed to answer phone calls – have led to talk of "a liberated zone."
 
Looking back two decades, the phrase could describe the landscape in which the terrorist attack that Nisman investigated took place.
 
After President Carlos Menem, the son of Syrian immigrants, was elected in 1989, he had friendly relations with Middle Eastern governments that included Syria and Iran, launching a nuclear cooperation venture with Tehran. A whirl of scandal soon engulfed Menem's government. Mafias with Middle Eastern links infiltrated government ministries, the judiciary, security forces, border agencies and transport firms to launder money and smuggle arms, drugs, contraband and people. 
 
The notorious Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arms trafficker now serving a 30-year sentence in the United States for terrorism, illegally received an Argentine passport in record time and, according to Kassar's testimony to a Spanish judge, wore a jacket and tie for the photo borrowed from President Menem himself. Presidential relatives and top officials fell in corruption cases in the 90s involving Kassar and a shadowy Argentine tycoon of Syrian descent named Alfredo Yabrán.
 
A "suicide" in 1990 has gotten new attention after Nisman's death. Police found Brigadier General Rodolfo Echegoyen, a customs chief who investigated Yabrán, with a bullet in his head and a suicide note nearby. Police forensic experts eventually determined that someone else fired the .38-caliber pistol that killed the general. Yabrán later shot himself (though some people don't believe it) as police prepared to arrest him for ordering another death that shocked the country: the killing of a news photographer by corrupt cops who tried to pin it on a band of petty criminals.
 
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org

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Reasonableness, Again
How to establish ‘reasonable care’ against an insurer refusing to pay your claims
 
The word has been cropping up in this discourse with increasing regularity. Reasonable care, reasonable man, reasonable woman, etc. The last one attracted a lot of reader attention and feedback.
 
The duty of care has its component of reasonableness. As with the definition of reasonable man, what is the dividing line for the definition of reasonable care? It could be anything, widely varying between two individuals’ perceptions. How that can lead to litigation is our story for the issue.
 
One Mr Kapoor owned a motorcycle. From the data available, it looks like it was a normal bike, costing about Rs60,000/-. In June 2010, the bike was stolen. Fortunately, Mr Kapoor had full insurance, not a third-party cover. Mr Kapoor asked the insurer to make good the loss.
 
At this point, it is necessary to discuss how the system works. In case of  loss of a vehicle, the insured party has to immediately lodge a complaint within a maximum of 24 hours. Jurisdiction lies with the police station where the theft occurred, not the residential thana. If incapable of reporting personally, make sure a friend or a relative does it. Some police stations are chary about taking complaints. If you encounter refusal, just go to the nearest post-office and send the complaint by registered post, or speed post, acknowledgement due. It is at that moment that your clock starts. You have done your job.
 
Next, write to the insurance company. Give the whole history. The insurance policy number, a photocopy of the policy, the place of theft, date and time, when you complained the theft to the police station, a copy of the small chit stating the NC (non-cognisable complaint) number. It is best to remember that documentation is everything. Send a copy of your driving licence, hopefully valid. If the rider was someone else, send his, or her, details. Make sure that you have made all possible efforts to trace the vehicle, asking people in the area; pan-wallahs are good bets. So are urchins and street-dwellers.
 
Next, follow up for a few days with the police station. No insurance company does anything for a month; hoping it was all a mistake; maybe it was taken for a ride and abandoned. Then, get going after the insurer. They will try their level best to stall and prevaricate. No one likes to shell out money.
 
Mr Kapoor must have done all the spadework. So, the insurer found something to shift the blame. It transferred the guilt to the victim! This is where the affair gets murky. Not having any concrete proof against Mr Kapoor, it fell back on subjectives. Accusations that are vague are always difficult to refute. The insurer said that Mr Kapoor “…had not taken reasonable care.”
 
Reasonable care includes locking the vehicle properly. Beyond that, there is no way that the owner can be held responsible. It’s not that he has parked his vehicle in Taliban territory or outside the territorial limits of the country. The insurer was trying to wriggle out.
Mr Kapoor went to a consumer court.
 
Now, you be the judge.
 
This is how the Central Delhi District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum decided. It showed its annoyance at the lack of caring on the part of the insurer. Mr Kapoor was four years into the loss. Insurers have a battery of lawyers who represent them. People like Mr Kapoor may have never seen the insides of a court. The insurer was not only made to pay the cost of the bike less the 10% deduction (for usage), but also made to pay Rs20,000/- as penalty and damages.
 
The system works, slowly but surely. Hallelujah! 
 

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COMMENTS

Deepak R Khemani

2 years ago

Very clearly explained Mr Bapoo Malcom I'm sure it will help readers in case something like this happens to them. I can relate my personal case where my car was stolen and later recovered and I had to go through hell(different police stations, courts lawyers) to get it back, the procedure is so cumbersome and lengthy that one wishes once a vehicle is stolen it is never found.

Delhi exit polls were right only in voter percentage and not seats!
According to Election Commission data, AAP received 54.3% votes; BJP got 32.2% while 9.7% people voted for Congress in Delhi. This is what the exit polls were predicting, right?
 
For the next five years, let's imagine that you were a politically inclined Delhiite who fancied the Aam Admi Party (AAP) and your best friends were inclined towards the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). You talked and breathed and drank politics all day long, but at mealtimes, you sat down together, and shared the food based on an equitable relationship, which included the cost.
 
Now let us assume because of a difference in size, age, eating capacity, food served at office, and all the rest, the AAP person paid for 54% of the food, the BJP person paid for 32% and the Congress person for 10%. The balance 4%, you decided, was to be subsidised by other means, let us say what you grew at home? That made for a complete 100%. Fair enough, and everybody happy, for whatever reason.
 
However, one day, a very tasty and huge pizza landed up on the doorstep, with an irresistible offer attached - your friends and you would get a pizza delivered at home for the next five years! The pizza was really tasty, it promised to become even tastier as days went bye, and it was huge.
 
That is when the trouble started. All three of you now wanted a bigger share of the pizza. 
 
So, after a few weeks of fighting over it and calling each other names, nobody got the pizza as you kept fighting over it and then it got broken, fell down, and other people ran away with the scraps. Or the dog ate it. Whatever.
 
Hungry and unable to sort this out, and without pizza, also since you were all politically inclined, you went to the Election Commission of India (EC) and asked them to decide for you. The Commission in its wisdom, decided to poll the neighbourhood, people, cats, dogs, sparrows, everybody. They used electronic means but they also generated millions of small pieces of paper, which they strung together with twine and needle, then they put on their venerable hats and pulled out the original distribution as decided by all three of you, and presented you with a result that said, ipso facto.
 
That AAP had polled about 5/9ths of the votes, but would get 96% or almost all the pizza.
That BJP had polled about 1/3rd of the votes, but would get 4% of the pizza.
That Congress had polled about 1/10th of the votes, but would get nothing from the pizza.
 
You read it here first - reassessment of votes polled shows the results in a new light if you look at them from the way other countries handle their elections, percentile votes polled share, and not by the winner take all method. Now does it look like a sweep or wave or maybe an illusion? Or maybe closer to the opinion and exit polls?
 
 
That, in brief, is how the Delhi elections really happened.
 
 
Or, put it another way, all the people who travel in the Delhi Metro on one weekday, about 2.8 million people, they get only three representatives. And just 4% of the food.
 
However, for the people who travel by Delhi Metro on a weekday plus those who travel on Sunday, that is about 4.8 million people, they get 67 representatives. And 96% of the food.
 
And those who travel by bus, between 0.7 and 1.5 million people per day, no representatives. No pizza either.
 
Yes yes, I know, we shall do this for the National Elections of 2014 also, but nothing ever prepared anybody for such a skewed result as the one achieved in the recent Delhi elections. 
 
Luckily, too much pizza is bad for health, too.
 
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)

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COMMENTS

Suketu Shah

2 years ago

It was a well hatched plot by congress.

Congress pulled a fast one on Amit Shah and by the time he realised it was too late.It wl not happen again.You cannot fool Amit Shah 2 times.Wait and watch-Bihar,Bengal and UP.

pravsemilo

2 years ago

Why blame AAP for this? I did a similar analysis for national elections in 2014. The results page has been removed from ECI website but here is a Wikipedia link.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Results_of_the_Indian_general_election,_2014

In fact this is not just true for these two cases, but for every election ever since coalition governments are formed. Consider that a given % of voters vote for Party B just because they don't want Party A to come to power. But after results they see both of them joining hands. The leading party in a coalition might not have the majority share, but it does get a lion's share when it gets to running the government even though majority of population doesn't want it to be in power.

Yes things are different in other countries. In India we have too many political parties and with different flavors. In India anyone can form a political party, coalition governments are the norm, The fact is that the powers that be decided to have lenient rules for voting, party formation, government formation for some good reason. But they are being misused and there isn't any intent to correct the direction.

REPLY

pravsemilo

In Reply to pravsemilo 2 years ago

Let me give one more example where our election rules don't justify. I might want a certain party to come in power at center - mainly due to the image of Prime Ministerial candidate, but the representative from my constituency isn't well suited to represent me in LokSabha (criminal background, local corruption cases etc). What do I do? NOTA?

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