Latin America

Reporter who first tweeted news of prosecutor’s death flees Argentina

Journalist thinks he may have stopped someone from tampering with evidence

Journalist Damián Pachter arrives in Tel Aviv.
Journalist Damián Pachter arrives in Tel Aviv.AMIR COHEN (REUTERS)

On the afternoon of January 18, Damián Pachter, a young Argentinean-Israeli journalist, received a call from a trustworthy source.

“I met with him and someone else. The source told me that prosecutor Alberto [Nisman] was dead,” Pachter recalled as he arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv Sunday.

Just four days before, Nisman had presented accusations again Argentinean President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and other officials for allegedly trying to cover up the role of Iran in the 1994 car-bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead and dozens injured.

The 51-year-old prosecutor was schedule to testify at a closed-door meeting in Congress the following morning about his allegations, including his theory that the president was secretly negotiating a grain-for-oil agreement with Iran in exchange for impunity for several prominent Iranians suspected of bombing the AMIA center.

Pachter doesn’t know why anyone would want to threaten him, but he fears his life is in danger

No official ruling on Nisman's death had been issued by Monday.

At 11pm after meeting with his source, Pachter, who works for the web version of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald, wrote on his Twitter account: “I have just been informed about the incident at the home of prosecutor Alberto Nisman.”

About a half-hour later he tweeted: “They found Alberto Nisman in the bathroom at his home in Puerto Madero lying in a pool of blood. He wasn’t breathing. The doctors are there.”

With his tweets, Pachter was the first journalist to break the story of Nisman’s death. Since then, Argentinean society has been rocked by the ongoing investigation into the case and speculation concerning the evidence he had compiled against Fernández de Kirchner and other officials.

After discovering he was being followed by intelligence agents, Pachter said he had to flee the country. He first boarded an Aerolineas Argentina flight to neighboring Montevideo, Uruguay on Friday.

From South America and with a stopover in Madrid, he flew to Israel, a country where he holds citizenship and he says he “spent the best years” of his life.

As the case unfolds, journalists in Argentina are once again feeling the same sense of pressure  they did 18 years ago when photographer José Luis Cabezas was killed after taking photos of Alfredo Yabrán, a businessman who was linked to corruption cases during the administration of President Carlos Menem.

Pachter doesn’t know why anyone would want to threaten him on Twitter or by telephone, but he fears his life is in danger. He claims that his phone was tapped and that he was followed “for at least several hours” by a person he believes was an Argentinean intelligence agent.

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“Since this has happened, I keep asking myself what would have occurred if I hadn’t posted that tweet,” said a travel-weary Pachter, who only carried a small backpack with him at the airport outside Tel Aviv. His stay in Israel is indefinite.

“Maybe they had another plan, and my tweet, which took place some hours before anyone suspected, ruined someone’s plans. I still don’t know but I intend to find out,” he said.

“I think it had something to do with a cover-up [on behalf of the authorities]. This is all so strange. The government contradicts itself one day to the next.”

Writing in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Pachter said he was followed by a man wearing jeans and Ray-Ban sunglasses. His source had identified the man as an Argentinean intelligence agent.

In a surprising development, the government news agency Télam revealed Pachter’s whereabouts, including making public a copy of his airline ticket to Montevideo. It was later reproduced on the Casa Rosada presidential palace’s Twitter account. Later government officials said the journalist was headed to Tel Aviv.

Pachter told news portal Infobae that his tweets may have stopped someone from tampering with the scene in Nisman’s apartment. “Can you imagine if I hadn’t send those tweets? What type of scene would we have found?”

Pachter had already demonstrated that his sources were reliable. On January 14, the same day that Nisman lodged his charges against the president, he tweeted: “This is much more serious than what has come out.”

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