Argentina creates new spy agency after prosecutor's death

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Buenos Aires (AFP) - Argentina's congress passed a law Thursday creating a new intelligence service after the mysterious death of a prosecutor who had accused the president of a cover-up in his probe of a 1994 bombing targeting Jews.

By a vote of 131 to 71, the Chamber of Deputies passed the bill dissolving the Intelligence Secretariat and replacing it with a body called the Federal Intelligence Agency.

President Cristina Kirchner sent the bill to the chamber, which is controlled by her party, after the death last month of Alberto Nisman, who was found in his apartment with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

At the time, Nisman was investigating the long-unsolved bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, which killed 85 people and injured 300 others.

Four days before his death, he filed a report alleging that Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman tried to shield Iranian officials involved in the attack in return for oil.

Since his death, initially labeled a suicide, Kirchner's government has come under suspicion of orchestrating Nisman's murder, while she has pointed the finger at rogue former intelligence agents seeking to discredit her.

The Argentine intelligence services had already been ensnared in a scandal involving wiretaps carried out to extort judges, prosecutors and other powerful figures.

Opposition parties had been demanding a reform of the spy agency, but see the new law as a move by Kirchner to shift attention away from the Nisman case.

"We note that after 10 years in power they make a meal of the fact that (the intelligence services) carry out illegitimate activities and influences in the judiciary. This is a smoke screen that will resolve nothing," said deputy Manuel Garrido of the opposition Radical Civic Union.

Leftist opposition deputies also complained it would leave in place the old intelligence structure and its "sinister" personnel.

- Moment of silence -

The legislative session began with a minute of silence in memory of Nisman.

One of the law's most controversial changes is to put the country's solicitor general, who answers to Kirchner, in charge of the office responsible for carrying out telephone wiretaps.

Pro-Kirchner deputy Diana Conti said the new law would end a "conspiracy between the agents and the judiciary," by placing wiretaps "totally" under the executive and the judiciary.

Nisman had based his accusations against Kirchner and her foreign minister on hundreds of hours of wiretaps.

After Nisman raised suspicions about the president, the government turned the spotlight on Antonio 'Jaime' Stiuso, who had been sacked as the Intelligence Secretariat's operations chief in December.

Kirchner has accused Stiuso of feeding false information to Nisman, and suggested that he then had the prosecutor killed to smear her.

On Tuesday, the government accused him of running a smuggling ring and committing tax fraud.