Monday, 23 February, 2009

Colombian prosecutor orders search of spy agency

BOGOTA (AP/FAX40) — Colombia's chief prosecutor ordered a search Sunday of the headquarters of the country's domestic intelligence agency over allegations some of its agents eavesdropped on prominent journalists, Supreme Court judges and opposition members.

The interior minister, meanwhile, said President Alvaro Uribe had been among the wiretapper's chief victims.

Prosecutor Mario Iguaran ordered two prosecutors to probe the DAS agency, which answers directly to Uribe, after Colombia's leading newsmagazine reported the interception of e-mails and phone calls through at least the end of last year.

"We need to know who ordered the interceptions and who is utilizing the information," Iguaran told reporters.

One of his top deputies, Omar Zarabanda, told The Associated Press that the two prosecutors were inside the headquarters of the DAS, or Department of Administrative Security, on Sunday evening seeking evidence.

Earlier Sunday, the DAS's new director said he had accepted the resignation of the agency's deputy director of intelligence, Capt. Jorge Alberto Lagos. Felipe Munoz, who took office last month, called the resignation "an administrative measure."

The DAS has been plagued by scandal under Uribe. His first director, Jorge Noguera, is in jail on criminal conspiracy charges for allegedly colluding with far-right death squads, including providing them with lists of union activists to target for assassination.

In all, 33 members of Congress, most of them Uribe allies, were ordered jailed on criminal conspiracy charges by the Supreme Court for allegedly benefiting from ties with the far-right militias.

Munoz's immediate predecessor, meanwhile, was forced to resign in October after leading opposition Sen. Gustavo Petro was leaked documents showing that one of her subordinates had ordered he be spied on.

Interior Minister Fabio Valencia denied to the AP on Sunday that Uribe ordered the DAS to illegally eavesdrop on anyone. He said Uribe had himself been "one of the principal victims" of the alleged espionage ring within the DAS.

Valencia said that among the phones tapped by what he described as "a small group of criminals in the DAS" was that of Uribe's private secretary as well as some of the president's close advisers.

Wiretapping scandals are nothing unusual or new in Colombia.

All the country's illegal armed groups — drug traffickers, paramilitaries and rebels — regularly engage in it as well as foreign intelligence services.

In May 2007, Colombia's police chief and the head of police intelligence were forced to retire over the illegal interception of calls of opposition political figures, journalists and members of the government.

And last year, a judge sentenced four cashiered members of an anti-kidnapping unit to 11 years in prison each for the unauthorized wiretapping from 1997-2001 of at least 1,600 phone lines in Medellin. Among their targets were human rights activists, several of whom disappeared and were never found.


Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report.

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