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Argentina Spy Chief Denies Charges

October 12, 2000

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ Argentina’s intelligence chief denied Thursday that his agency was involved in a vote-buying scandal that has sparked a political crisis for President Fernando De la Rua.

Senators are accused of accepting money in exchange for their votes in favor of a controversial labor law. The scandal has dogged De la Rua’s government for months and forced his vice president to resign.

In an interview with The Associated Press, intelligence chief Fernando Santibanes, a close adviser to the president, repeatedly denied that intelligence service funds were used to bribe senators.

``If there were bribes, the money did not come from the SIDE,″ Santibanes said, using the Spanish acronym for the intelligence service.

He presented slides and charts detailing the agency’s coffers to show there were no irregular payments at the time the labor law was passed in April. He also displayed a document showing a federal judge’s review of the agency’s accounts found no irregularities.

No arrests have been made and no charges filed. But the scandal has had significant political repercussions for De la Rua.

Former Vice President Carlos Alvarez resigned last week, angered over what he called the administration’s failure to take stronger action in the scandal.

He said he was also incensed by De la Rua’s decision to retain Santibanes and former Labor Minister Alberto Flamarique, both targeted in the scandal probe, after a Cabinet reshuffle.

Flamarique also resigned last week, hours after Alvarez.

Alvarez and other prominent members of De la Rua’s Alliance ruling coalition have stepped up calls for Santibanes’ removal, calling his presence damaging to the president.

De la Rua won the presidency last year pledging to clean up politics and re-ignite Argentina’s stalled economy.

Santibanes dismissed the attacks against him as politically motivated.

``They’re attacking me but who they’re really attacking is the president,″ he said.

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