Argentine president replaces scandal-plagued intelligence chief
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
BUENOS AIRES -- Argentine President Fernando de la Rúa
appointed a new
intelligence chief Monday in an effort to surmount a political scandal over his
former spy master, who said he became a political target when he axed former
agents and corrupt journalists from his agency's payroll.
Outgoing intelligence chief Fernando de Santibáñez,
a wealthy banker and one of
de la Rúa's closest friends, had been publicly accused by former Vice President
Carlos ``Chacho'' Alvarez of having paid up to $10 million in bribes to opposition
legislators to pass a government-backed labor law. Both Santibáñez and de la
Rúa have denied the charge.
But in his resignation letter Friday, Santibáñez
said he was the target of political
attacks by some of the more than 1,000 spies he had laid off as part of a major
reform of the State Intelligence Service, which resulted in a 45 percent cut in the
agency's overall budget.
Since the de la Rúa government took office nearly a year
ago, the intelligence
service ``is no longer used as a political tool and has become a professional
institution'' aimed at fighting drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering and
organized crime, he said. Many of the ousted spies ``worked breathlessly against
the reforms,'' he said.
Although he did not mention it in his resignation letter, Santibáñez
privately that part of the attacks against him had come from up to 30 corrupt
journalists who had been receiving money from the agency before the budget
According to Santibáñez, the money for the journalists
came from the intelligence
service's secret funds. A September 2000 confidential report from the spy agency
obtained by The Herald shows that the service's ``strictly secret'' funds were cut
from $174 million in 1999 -- the last year of President Carlos Menem's
administration -- to $30.7 million during the first year of de la Rúa's government.
Santibáñez told The Herald that he would not publicly
name the journalists who
he says received money from the intelligence service. Although there were
witnesses who allegedly saw the journalists come once a month to get their
money, it would be hard to prove that in court, he said.
Santibáñez was replaced by Carlos Becerra, a long-time
activist of de la Rúa's
centrist political party. Political analysts interpreted the change as a boost for
political leaders of the left wing of de la Rúa's ruling coalition, including former
Vice President Alvarez and former President Raul Alfonsin, who had also
criticized Santibáñez's free-market economic proposals.