Argentine government accuses ex-spy of smuggling

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner speaks during a press conference on March 18, 2013 in Rome (AFP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli) (AFP/File)

Buenos Aires (AFP) - A powerful ex-spy linked to explosive allegations against Argentine President Cristina Kirchner was accused by the government Tuesday of running a smuggling ring and committing tax fraud.

The former intelligence agent, Antonio Stiuso, has been in the spotlight since the mysterious death last month of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose investigation into a 1994 bombing at a Buenos Aires Jewish center had turned its sights on the president.

Kirchner has accused Stiuso of feeding false information to Nisman, who was found with a gunshot to the head on the eve of congressional hearings where the prosecutor was due to accuse the president of protecting Iranian officials implicated in the bombing in exchange for oil.

The saga took another twist Tuesday as the new head of Argentine intelligence announced the government had brought charges against Stiuso and two active-duty agents of leading a "substantial contraband operation" within the country's Intelligence Secretariat (SI).

SI chief Oscar Parrilli, whom Kirchner named to his post in December, said the ring had used Miami-based companies to bring undeclared medical equipment and electronics into Argentina, but did not say how much the goods were worth.

The charge carries a prison sentence of four to 10 years in Argentina.

At the time of his death on January 18, Nisman was investigating the long-unsolved bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association, which killed 85 people and wounded 300.

He had filed a report accusing Iran of ordering the attack via Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and alleging that Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman were trying to shield Iranian officials from prosecution.

Since his death, initially labeled a suicide, suspicion has fallen on Kirchner's government of orchestrating Nisman's murder.

The president has suggested the prosecutor was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.

Kirchner has clashed with the intelligence establishment, moving to dissolve the SI and create a new Federal Intelligence Agency that would have reduced wiretapping powers and wield less influence on certain political cases.

In December, she sacked the SI's leadership, including Stiuso, who was head of operations.

Stiuso presented himself last week for questioning by the prosecutor investigating Nisman's death, after initially dodging attempts to bring him in for interrogation.

Parrilli said Stiuso had then left for neighboring Uruguay in a black pickup registered to one of the companies allegedly involved in the smuggling operation.