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Colombia opens investigation into former general after spying accusations

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia will open an investigation into a former top general, the country’s attorney general’s office said on Monday, following local media reports alleging the army spied on judicial officials, journalists and other military personnel.

It is the latest in a long series of spying scandals in the Andean country, including accusations that military officials spied on negotiators at talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, which eventually led to a 2016 peace accord. Other investigations have been unable to identify those responsible for alleged spying.

“The Attorney General’s Office today begins an investigation in relation to these events. Given that a general of the republic is mentioned, obviously it corresponds to office’s official in the Supreme Court,” Interim Attorney General Fabio Espitia told journalists.

The investigation into former General Nicacio de Jesus Martinez, who stepped down last year, comes after local magazine Semana published a Sunday cover story alleging spying on politicians, magistrates, members of the military and journalists.

In a statement, Martinez denied any responsibility for illegal efforts to intercept communications and said he would take legal action against his accusers.

“I am completely removed from these kind of illegal and injurious actions”, said Martinez, who became head of the military in 2018.

The government has said the former general left his post in December for personal reasons. His retirement came after he denied putting pressure on high-ranking officers to sharply increase the number of rebels and gang members killed or captured.

Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo ordered a review of military intelligence work conducted during the last decade. He told journalists the government rejects persecution, tracking or illegal interceptions and will have zero tolerance with illegal acts and corruption within the armed forces.

“If we discover irregularities, the government will demand that those responsible are sanctioned in an exemplary manner,” Trujillo said.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio