Argentine gov't agent held in candidate burglary

AP News
Posted: Aug 05, 2013 1:20 PM
Argentine gov't agent held in candidate burglary

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine investigators have arrested a government intelligence agent in a burglary of the home of a leading opposition candidate, whose bloc could sway the balance of power in congress.

Security camera videos released Monday show Tigre Mayor Sergio Massa's home was robbed on July 20, allegedly by Coast Guard officer Alcides Diaz Gorgonio, who was detained hours after the crime.

While Massa stopped short of blaming the government for the burglary, he also said he would not be intimidated. The agent's boss, meanwhile, suggested that Massa was twisting a common crime into a political scandal.

Diaz works in the security ministry's intelligence unit under Deputy Security Minister Sergio Berni, who answers to President Cristina Fernandez. The videos show a man, allegedly Diaz, breaking into the house and carrying a pistol with a silencer. Massa said the gun was used during the burglary to destroy a security camera.

"If someone fantasized that I could be frightened by this political maneuver, they are mistaken," said Massa.

Massa used to be Fernandez's Cabinet chief but split from the ruling Front for Victory party and is leading an opposition slate in this year's midterm elections.

In a radio interview Monday, Berni claimed that Massa and the prosecutor "have a lot of explaining to do" for withholding information from the federal government.

"We are at the doors of a political scandal," Berni said.

Massa's effort to create a third force in the politically polarized country has been peeling supporters away from Fernandez. If his slate does well in Sunday's primary and then wins on Oct. 17, the government could lose the two-thirds majority it needs to change the constitution. That would end any possibility of modifying term limits to let Fernandez expand her presidency past 2015.

Massa said the burglary case is in the hands of a local prosecutor, Mariano Magaz, who has not discarded political dirty-tricks as a motive.

Massa said Magaz ordered him not to publicize the crime to avoid compromising the investigation.

He said he made it public only after a local newspaper accused him of covering up the burglary to avoid staining his anti-crime credentials.

"If this was a robbery, an example of crime, we have the pride and the satisfaction of showing that the video-vigilance systems work and work well," Massa said.

But this doesn't seem to be a simple robbery, he added; "Someone who enters a house with a pistol with a silencer, and uses it, is not someone who is committing a simple theft."

Diaz was detained after local police, who don't answer to the federal government, found the stolen goods in the officer's house. They reportedly included 65,000 pesos and 1,200 dollars, jewelry, Mont Blanc pens and two computer pen-drives with campaign information.

President Fernandez was in New York on Monday ahead of a Tuesday speech at the United Nations Security Council.

Berni, for his part, called it a simple burglary, and accused Massa of keeping information from the federal government to "manipulate" the case to promote his campaign.

Massa and the prosecutor "will have to do a lot of explaining to society," Berni told Radio 10 on Monday.

Berni did not immediately respond to a request to speak with The Associated Press.

The crime was first made public on Sunday by the pro-government Pagina12 newspaper, which provided many details and accused Massa of covering up the burglary to avoid undermining his claim to have reduced crime in the town of Tigre.

On Monday, the opposition La Nacion newspaper filled in a key detail, reporting that Diaz is a government agent assigned to the Security Ministry's intelligence unit.

But Berni suggested that Diaz is Massa's man. Diaz used to work with other Coast Guard officers guarding the gated riverfront community where Massa lives. Berni said Massa knows Diaz personally and alleged that Diaz did political work for the mayor.