Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman
Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman Reuters

A respected Holocaust expert was named Wednesday to take over as judge in the politically explosive case of a 1994 Jewish center bombing that has shaken Argentina since the lead prosecutor's mysterious death, AFP reports.

The case had become a judicial hot potato amid revelations that late prosecutor Alberto Nisman had drafted an arrest warrant for President Cristina Kirchner before he was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head last month.

Three judges had asked to recuse themselves from the case, which has gripped Argentina since Nisman, 51, turned up dead on the eve of a congressional hearing at which he was expected to accuse Kirchner of covering up Iranian officials' involvement in the deadly bombing.

The federal judicial authority for criminal courts finally ended the impasse by ordering one of the three judges, Daniel Rafecas, to take on the case.

Rafecas, a human rights expert, has authored studies on the Holocaust that earned him awards from three Argentine Jewish groups: B'nai B'rith Argentina, the Argentine Hebrew Society and the Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum Foundation.

He is also known for trying military officers for abuses committed during the South American country's 1976-1983 dictatorship.

The bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, or AMIA, killed 85 people and wounded 300, the deadliest such attack in Argentina's history.

After the initial investigation ended with no convictions, Nisman was named in 2006 to reopen the case.

He accused Iran of ordering the attack via Lebanon-backed militant group Hezbollah, and requested arrest warrants for five Iranian officials including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

On January 14, four days before he was found dead, Nisman filed a 300-page report accusing Kirchner, foreign minister Hector Timerman and another senior official of trying to shield the Iranian suspects in exchange for oil.

Nisman's death is being investigated by prosecutor Viviana Fein, who caused further controversy by initially denying that Nisman had drafted an arrest warrant for Kirchner.

Fein later said such a warrant had in fact been found in Nisman's apartment, denying she had succumbed to government pressure to cover it up.

In a bid to forestall further controversy, Fein said Wednesday she was canceling her plans to go on vacation on February 18, which had drawn criticism from some, including the government.

"I've never been pressured, I'm not afraid," she told a press conference.