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Senior IRS official in targeting scandal retires: agency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former senior U.S. Internal Revenue Service official who was a key figure in the controversy over IRS scrutiny of conservative groups has retired, the tax agency said on Monday.

"We can confirm today that Lois Lerner has retired," the agency said in a statement regarding the status of the former head of its tax-exempt division.

Lerner had been placed on leave in May at the peak of the furor over the handling by some IRS agents of applications for tax-exempt status by groups with 'Tea Party' and other conservative terms in their names.

"Under federal privacy rules, the IRS cannot comment further on individual employee matters," the agency said.

Neither Lerner nor her lawyer could immediately be reached for comment.

Congressional panels and the Justice Department are continuing to investigate IRS employees.

"Just because Lois Lerner is retiring from the IRS does not mean the investigation is over," Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said in a statement.

Her retirement does not "diminish the committee's interest in hearing her testimony," said Republican Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Lerner triggered the controversy in May when she publicly apologized for what she called "inappropriate" screening by the agency of applications for tax-exempt status from conservative political groups.

That apology unleashed a torrent of criticism from Republicans who accused the IRS of bias against conservatives and led to the resignation of the IRS' acting commissioner.

At a House hearing, Lerner declined to answer questions, infuriating lawmakers. She had been asked to resign in May by the acting commissioner but refused.

(Reporting by Patrick Temple-West and Kim Dixon; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Xavier Briand)

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