BRASILIA (AFP) — The chiefs of Brazil's spy agency have been suspended and a probe launched into allegations the agency eavesdropped on telephone conversations by senior judicial, legislative and government officials.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ordered the suspension of the directors the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin) late Monday, in response to a weekend media report alleging that the spy agency had wiretapped the head of the country's supreme court.
The decision was to "ensure transparency" while federal police investigated the scandal.
The bugging allegation was raised by the weekly newsmagazine Veja, which gave its source as an anonymous intelligence officer.
As proof, it published a July 15 telephone conversation between the supreme court president, Gilmar Mendes, and a senator, Demostenes Torres. Both of the men confirmed the conversation.
A furious Mendes called the bugging "a lack of control over state apparatus", while the head of the Brazilian senate, Garibaldi Alves, called it "an attack on the rule of law."
Lula decided to remove Abin's leaders -- including agency chief Paulo Lacerda -- from their functions after a day of discussions with several top officials, including Mendes and the defense and justice ministers.
The allegations also suggest Abin might have illegally recorded a conversation with a government minister, Dilma Rousseff, Lula's cabinet chief of staff.
The Brazilian president told the head of the supreme court of his "concern and indignation over the possibility that there might have been an illegal wiretap," his spokesman Marcelo Baumbach said.
Before the announcement of the suspension, Abin had opened its own investigation into Veja's report.
A special congressional committee on Tuesday also called on the government official in charge of Abin and other security agencies, General Jorge Felix, to explain the allegation.
A lawmaker, Marcelo Itagiba, said "the matter is so grave that only congress can conduct an impartial inquiry."
He added that illegal wiretaps have multiplied in Brazil, beyond the thousands that are authorized every year. Last year, for instance, 409,000 legal wiretaps were made, he said.
"The revelation is serious because it involves the leader of one of the state's powers, and because it revolves around wiretaps of the three powers," an analyst at the political studies institute Santafe Ideias, Carlos Lopes, told AFP, referring to the powers of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive.
"This demands drastic measures," he said, suggesting that Lacerda could be fired.
Another observer, a political commentator named Lucia Hipolito, told CBN radio that the scandal showed the government "has lost control of the security apparatus."
The news made the front pages of all of Brazil's dailies on Tuesday, with several speculating whether the scandal involved a longrunning and well-known feud between Abin and the federal police service.
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