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Apparent arrest warrant for the president of Argentina found: what we know

Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
(Alexei Danichev/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)

Just when it seems like Argentina's bizarre political scandal can't get any stranger, it does.

Investigators confirmed on Tuesday that they had found a draft arrest warrant at the home of Alberto Nisman, a prosecutor whose mysterious death has set off a political crisis in Argentina, which appeared to call for the arrest of Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her foreign minister Héctor Timerman.

What the warrant says

Although the warrant is apparently 26 pages long, only two pages have been posted online. (Because nothing about this story is simple, the excerpts were published by Clarin, a media group that is locked in a long and high-profile antitrust battle with the president, and which Kirchner has implied might be part of the "conspiracy" against her.)

The first page that Clarin released says that the document is a request for detention and prevention from leaving the country:

Nisman warrant page 1

The second page that Clarin posted calls for the arrest of President Kirchner, her foreign minister Héctor Timerman, and National Deputy Andrés Larroque. However, the document notes that the three officials may be entitled to immunity as a result of their respective offices, and that any arrest would need to be done in accordance with the Argentina's laws and constitution. There is a parenthetical at the bottom of the page that appears to reference impeachment, but it is cut off in the image posted online:

nisman warrant page 2

It is not clear what is in the other 24 pages of the document, or why they were not posted along with these two excerpts. That means that right now it's impossible to judge whether the warrant had been completed, whether it made cogent legal arguments, or whether it cited compelling evidence in support of its demands for the officials' arrest.

How this fits into the broader scandal

Nisman was the lead investigator into a 1994 terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires. On January 14 of this year, he filed a complaint accusing Kirchner of trying to shield Iranian officials from criminal punishment for their involvement in the bombing. Four days later he was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot to the head.

President Kirchner initially called his death a suicide, but then changed her mind. On January 22 she posted a statement saying that Nisman's death was "not a suicide," and that he may have been "manipulated" by forces seeking to undermine her presidency. Four days later, she announced that she would submit a bill to dissolve the national intelligence service and replace it with a new federal intelligence agency.

It is likely that all sides of the growing scandal will seize upon the warrant as evidence of their favored theories. Those who believe that the president had Nisman killed in order to cover up the Iran deal will likely see it as further evidence that he was a threat to her power. Conversely, those who believe Kirchner's claims that Nisman's death was part of a broader conspiracy against her presidency will likely believe that the draft warrant was planted as part of that plot.

Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that there may be alternate explanations. It is common for lawyers to draft documents in advance, even if they don't plan to use them any time soon. Nisman may have prepared the draft of the warrant without any specific intention to execute it. Viviana Fein, the prosecutor investigating Nisman's death, has said that the draft warrant was prepared in June 2014, so it seems unlikely that it would have been a precipitating factor in Nisman's death more than six months later. And, according to Clarin, the draft that was found had handwritten notes on it, which suggests that the warrant was still a work in progress at the time Nisman died.