Colombian prosecutors probe illegal wiretap scandal

BOGOTA, (Reuters) – Colombian state prosecutors  swooped on headquarters of the national intelligence agency yesterday to probe charges that rogue agents illegally wiretapped  politicians and judges as a paid favor to drug traffickers.

Alvaro Uribe
Alvaro Uribe

The telephone bugging accusations are the latest scandal to  rock the state security agency, known as DAS, and could further  stain President Alvaro Uribe’s campaign to stamp out corruption  of state law enforcement in the world’s top cocaine supplier.

“I have ordered a probe of the DAS interception systems and  controls,” Attorney General Mario Iguaran told reporters. “If  necessary, because the seriousness of this case, we could  suspend operations in the DAS interception rooms.”

The latest accusations were first made by the news magazine  Semana in a report on DAS agents intercepting the phone calls  of well-known journalists, politicians and magistrates to sell  information to drug traffickers and armed gangs.

Uribe, a strong ally of the United States, has received  billions of dollars in aid from Washington to help his fight  against drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas. Violence,  bombings and kidnappings from Colombia’s four-decade conflict  have declined sharply.

But officials in the armed forces and police agents are  still often accused of taking bribes from drug lords. The  justice minister’s brother, a prosecutor in Medellin, was  arrested last year in a probe into suspected ties to drug  traffickers.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told local radio the  intelligence agents were likely in the pay of drug smugglers,  but opposition leaders questioned those claims, saying Uribe’s  administration would benefit most from the recordings.

The new scandal came to light just four months after the  former intelligence director quit after admitting agents had  spied on opponents of Uribe, a hardliner popular for his  crackdown on the rebel group known as FARC.
Felipe Munoz, the new director of the DAS agency, said an  elite team would probe the case to establish if there is a  mafioso-type network trying to strike at national security.

In 2007, Uribe fired his senior police chiefs after an  illegal wiretapping scandal that fueled worries about  intelligence practices in the Andean country. A former director  has also been under investigation for ties to paramilitary  death squads.

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