The authorities yesterday announced the suspension for three months of five senior police and intelligence officials suspected of illegally tapping the phones of journalists, opposition politicians and even government officials. Those sanctioned include the director of intelligence operations and the director of counter-espionage. A third intelligence chief, Gen. Guillermo Chávez Ocaña, the head of the Police Intelligence Directorate (Dipol), resigned immediately after the scandal was revealed by defence minister Juan Manuel Santos on 14 May, a day after the weekly Semana published the transcripts of phone taps showing that paramilitary chiefs held in Itagüi prison ran criminal operations from their cells.
16.05.07 - Governments admits illegally tapping journalists’ phone calls for past two years
Reporters Without Borders called today for an explanation from President Alvaro Uribe after defence minister Juan Manuel Santos publicly acknowledged on 14 May that the national police has been illegally tapping the phone calls of government officials, opposition members and journalists for the past two years.
“Spying on phone calls is unworthy of a democratic state,” the press freedom organisation said. “It violates basic freedoms that are guaranteed by the constitution and the principle of the confidentiality of sources, without which journalists cannot function. Resignations are not enough. We call on President Uribe to say whether or not he was aware of what was going on. If he was, he should explain himself to congress. If he was not, then part of the state apparatus was out of control and needs to be thoroughly overhauled.”
The defence minister issued his statement after the newspaper Semana published details of recordings showing that crimes were planned from Itagüí prison, where a number of paramilitary chiefs are detained.
Santos said he learned of the taps on 13 May, when he was given information about imprisoned paramilitaries who are still active, as well as phone numbers of certain journalists, parliamentarians and government officials. One of the recorded phone conversations involved journalist Claudia Gurisatti of the privately-owned RCN television station and Carlos Gaviria, the president of the Democratic Pole, a left-wing opposition group.
After originally saying no government department had carried out the recordings, the authorities admitted that the Police Intelligence Directorate (Dipol) had recorded some calls and monitored the media. Dipol director Guillermo Chaves offered his resignation, which was accepted.
National police director Jorge Daniel Castro has been fired and replaced. Eleven other national police generals have also been dismissed. Santos said the officials who tapped the calls have not yet been identified but promised that they would be.