HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Wiretap Scandal Grows In Colombia
Pubdate: Wed, 16 May 2007
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Times
Author: Chris Kraul, Times Staff Writer


Defense Minister Says Neither He Nor The President Knew The National 
Police Were Listening In On Public Figures, Including Officials

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- President Alvaro Uribe faced a new scandal 
Tuesday over alleged wiretapping of political opponents and 
journalists, one day after he ordered the arrest of 19 present and 
former Colombian officials accused of signing a "devil's pact" with 
right-wing paramilitaries.

In a news conference Tuesday, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos 
disclosed that the administration had uncovered a broad and 
systematic practice by the national police of wiretapping prominent 
public figures, including members of Uribe's government.

The 12 top generals in the national police were dismissed or forced 
into retirement Monday over the scandal, including Colombia's police 
chief, Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, and the head of police intelligence, 
Gen. Guillermo Chavez.

Santos insisted that neither he nor Uribe was aware of the wiretaps. 
As defense minister, Santos is responsible for the Colombian armed 
forces, including the 130,000-member national police. He said the 
wiretaps had been going on for as long as three years.

"Neither he nor I nor anyone in the administration was aware this was 
going on," said Santos, who became defense minister last July.

The disclosures come as Uribe deals with a growing scandal involving 
allegations that many of his political supporters have colluded with 
outlawed paramilitary groups blamed for numerous human rights 
violations, including mass killings.

Arrest warrants were issued Monday for five members of Colombia's 
Congress for having signed a 2001 pact with paramilitary leaders 
promising to work together to "re-found" the nation. Eight other 
members of the Senate and lower house had been arrested previously 
and accused of ties to the paramilitaries.

The Uribe government said it became aware of the alleged illegal 
wiretapping Sunday night, when it began investigating how transcripts 
of wiretapped conversations appeared in Semana, a newsweekly based in 
Bogota, the capital.

The article embarrassed Uribe with its portrayal of jailed 
paramilitary leaders running criminal enterprises from their cells. 
The imprisoned militia leaders are in the process of confessing and 
giving up illegal property as part of the demobilization process 
engineered by the president. About 31,000 paramilitary fighters have 
laid down their arms as part of the plan aimed at ending four decades 
of civil war.

Human rights organizations and opposition groups have long suspected 
that they were the objects of surveillance and eavesdropping, said 
Jorge Rojas Rodriguez, president of a leading Bogota-based Colombian 
human rights organization known by its Spanish initials, CODHES.

"The government has a lot to explain from a democratic point of view, 
how it uses military intelligence to find out what the opposition 
says," Rojas said. "It only shows this is a police state that puts a 
premium on arbitrariness over the rule of law."

At the news conference, Santos said there was no proof that the 
national police commander or his intelligence director knew of the 
wiretap practice. He said he "lamented" that both had to resign but 
added that they had to take "political responsibility" for the 
actions of the force.

Santos introduced the new commander of the national police, Gen. 
Oscar Naranjo, who promised to "purify" the force and disclose 
details of the wiretaps as they are known during the course of the 

Naranjo had headed the force's investigative unit, leading inquiries 
of drug traffickers.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman