October 31, 2018 / 1:21 PM / 17 days ago

Venezuela names new spy chief after uproar over politician's death

FILE PHOTO: A wreath with the name of opposition lawmaker Fernando Alban lays on the floor in front of riot police members standing outside the headquarters of Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) in Caracas, Venezuela October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has named a new chief of its state intelligence agency, according to the Official Gazette circulating on Wednesday, following the death of a politician in custody that was officially ruled a suicide but critics called a murder.

Army General Manuel Cristopher takes over the agency, known as Sebin, just weeks after the government announced that municipal legislator Fernando Alban had committed suicide by jumping from the 10th floor of the agency’s headquarters in Caracas.

Opposition leaders said the government provided inconsistent accounts of the incident, and say Alban had been tortured and later killed by security forces.

The incident drew global condemnation, and the White House accused President Nicolas Maduro’s government of involvement in Alban’s death.

Chief Prosecutor Tarek Saab described opposition critics as “sorcerers of necrophilia” who were taking advantage of Alban’s death to criticize Maduro.

Alban was jailed on Oct. 5 for alleged involvement in the explosion of two drones in August during a military parade that the government later described as an attempt to assassinate Maduro.

Cristopher replaces outgoing Sebin chief Gustavo Gonzalez. It was not immediately evident whether Gonzalez resigned or whether he would be given a new post.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Simao

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