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IRS official refuses to testify before Congress

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An Internal Revenue Service official on Wednesday invoked his right not to answer questions at a congressional hearing, a day after a Republican report accused the official of inappropriately awarding federal contracts worth millions of dollars.

At a U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, Gregory Roseman, an IRS official involved in awarding IRS contracts, repeated four times that he would not answer questions. He was then excused from the hearing.

"I respectfully decline to answer any questions and invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege to remain silent," Roseman said, referring the Constitution's protection against self-incrimination.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, released the report on Tuesday that detailed personal ties between Roseman and the president of a Virginia-based government contracting business Strong Castle Inc.

The report also said the company made false statements to beat rivals for the work. Strong Castle, formerly known as Signet Computers, has denied any wrongdoing.

Roseman has been reassigned within the IRS because of his role in awarding the contracts.

IRS deputy commissioner Beth Tucker told the House panel the new information revealed by the committee is "deeply troubling," and that the IRS is taking steps to end its ties to Strong Castle.

The alleged misconduct by Strong Castle and Roseman shows "shockingly inappropriate" behavior and highlights how the company was able to "successfully manipulate the system to acquire contracts," Issa said on Wednesday.

The controversy is the latest in a series suffered by the IRS in recent weeks, most notably an inspector general report that last month said the agency inappropriately gave added scrutiny to conservative Tea Party-linked groups seeking tax-exempt status.

It was the second time in two months that an IRS official refused to answer questions at a congressional hearing.

Last month, Lois Lerner, the former head of the IRS tax-exempt division at the center of the Tea Party groups controversy, angered lawmakers by reading a statement before refusing to testify.

Issa's panel will vote on Friday on whether Lerner waived her Fifth Amendment right by giving a brief opening statement.

(Reporting By Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Kim Dixon and Vicki Allen)

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