February 24, 2015 / 7:14 PM / 3 years ago

Argentine spy at center of Nisman case accused of smuggling

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - The Argentine spy at the center of a scandal over last month’s death of a state prosecutor was accused on Tuesday of importing tonnes of contraband merchandise during his final years as head of the country’s counterintelligence office.

Late Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman pauses during a meeting with journalists May 29, 2013. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Antonio Stiuso was forced out of the SI intelligence service in December, weeks before state prosecutor Alberto Nisman accused President Cristina Fernandez of trying to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in a deadly 1994 bombing.

The government says Nisman, who was found shot dead on Jan. 18, was manipulated by Stiuso into leveling the accusation as a way of smearing Fernandez.

Nisman’s mysterious death has brought long-simmering questions about the integrity of the Argentine justice system to a boil, prompting the opposition to take to the streets to demand answers.

In its latest accusation against Stiuso, the government on Tuesday said he secretly imported tonnes of unidentified goods whose destination remains unknown.

“We have concluded that in 2013 and 2014, contraband imports were received totaling 94 tonnes. These goods did not go to the SI, nor did they serve any function of the agency,” national intelligence chief Oscar Parrilli said in a televised address.

“Much of this merchandise entered the country under the name Antonio Stiuso,” he added. Some customs agents have also been implicated in the illegal import operations, he said.

Stiuso left Argentina last week after making a statement to the prosecutor investigating Nisman’s death.

Judges have been assigned to look at the evidence against Fernandez and that against Stiuso, to make sure the allegations are not simply a case of smear and counter smear by warring factions in the murky world of Argentine intelligence.

The 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires killed 85. The Argentine courts pinned the crime on agents of Iran, which denies any involvement.

Stiuso had long been at odds with Fernandez over her proposal to form a “truth commission” with Tehran aimed at resolving the crime, according to sources who were familiar with the investigation and asked not to be named.

Nisman said Fernandez also took the illegal step of secretly offering immunity to the Iranian suspects in order to put through a grains-for-oil deal with Tehran. The day after he died, Nisman was scheduled to outline his case before Congress.

State prosecutors joined opposition figures and tens of thousands of citizens in a march last week protesting what they describe as government meddling in the courts.

Polls show that Fernandez, her image already dented by an ailing economy, has lost popularity due to the Nisman scandal. She is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in the October election.

Additional reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi and Richard Lough; editing by Andrew Hay

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