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Complaint raises suspicions of Quebracho ties

Nisman described Fernando Esteche as a key player in drafting the deal with Iran

The inclusion of the leader of the ultra-nationalist organization Quebracho, Fernando Esteche, in late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman's complaint, reignites the suspicions of potential ties between the group and the country's intelligence services.

Nisman pointed to Esteche as one of the main people responsible of being involved in a plot to grant impunity to the Iranian officials accused of having attacked the AMIA Jewish community centre in 1994.

Nisman said Esteche was the mastermind behind the Memorandum of Understanding the country sealed with Iran in 2013, which established the creation of a "truth commission" to investigate the AMIA bombing and allow Nisman and Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral to travel to Tehran to question the suspects. Nisman had phone-tapping records of Jorge Khalil, the man who was allegedly the connection between Tehran and Buenos Aires, saying that he had drafted the agreement along with Esteche in 2006.

Nisman also said Esteche was the link with former judge and prosecutor Héctor Yrimia, who stepped down from his position as a criminal judge in 2004. Yrimia was reportedly linked to the Intelligence Secretariat (SI, formerly known as SIDE) in times when Carlos Becerra led the agency during Fernando de la Rúa's presidency.

Nisman claimed Yrimia was still involved in the SI, an allegation that Oscar Parrilli staunchly denied that was the case in a writ addressed to Federal Judge Ariel Lijo last week. Sources explained to the Herald that they believed Yrimia worked as a freelance agent for the SI, noting he was on good terms with Fernando Pocino, who is allegedly the most loyal supporter of the government inside the secretariat.

The Herald tried to talk with Esteche but he declined to comment, reportedly following a piece of advice from Fernando Burlando, a high-profile lawyer linked to the Buenos Aires provincial police. Esteche's spokesman acknowledged the Quebracho leader met Yrimia while he was a judge but said there were no other links to the former magistrate, who was reportedly involved in finding a new suspect for the AMIA investigation.

"They want to build a new enemy for the AMIA case, new people to blame for the AMIA bombing," Esteche was recorded as saying in a conversation with Khalil.

Although, as some legal experts have already said, the recordings do not appear to be definitive proof of any crime, they seem to make clear that Quebracho has at least some ties to the intelligence services.

Lijo ordered the Federal Police (PFA) to protect Yrimia and another man accused of being an intelligence agent working for the Pink House, Ramón Allan Héctor Bogado. But the judge did not extend the protection to other suspects such as Esteche. "He does not need it. He is a cop," a source working close to the magistrate told the Herald last week.

The organization

Quebracho was created in 1993 in the city of La Plata. It gathered together former left-leaning activists and Peronists. In an interview, Esteche explained the group's members were "revolutionary patriots."

"Revolutionaries or spies?" wondered the Spanish daily El País after Quebracho led a protest against International Monetary Fund (FMI) chief Rodrigo Rato when he visited the country, which ended with more than 100 people arrested and more than 20 injured.

That year, Quebracho also attacked the Army's headquarters, where organization members set US and UN flags on fire to protest against troops being sent to Haiti.

The group also launched a 2007 attack on the offices of then Neuquén governor Jorge Sobisch in Buenos Aires to protest a police killing of teacher Carlos Fuentealba, who was protesting to demand better salaries. Esteche and Carlos "Boli" Lescano, another Quebracho leader, were sent to jail for that incident. The judge who oversaw the case was Lijo.

In December, prosecutor Stella Maris Scandura agreed to unify all of Esteche's sentences and he was released from prison. He said he discussed his legal situation with Bogado, who reportedly worked for Juan Manuel Abal Medina while the latter was Cabinet chief.

Last year, Quebracho activists -- with their faces covered and carrying sticks -- protested against the supermarkets that did not follow the Price Watch Programme and against a petrol station Shell. Claims that Quebracho was working as a pro-government organization were not denied.

"We don't want to go back to the 1990s," the signs they were carrying read. During the Carlos Menem-era, Quebracho was responsible for several violent incidents, but also became an easy scapegoat and were repeatedly blamed for every scandal.

Times have changed but suspicions still remain.

[Source: Buenos Aires Herald, Herald staff, Bs As, 25Jan15]

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