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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

'Lucid' Pinochet charged with murder

AUGUSTO PINOCHET, the 90-year-old former dictator of Chile, was branded a “grave danger to society” as he was placed under house arrest in Santiago yesterday by the judge investigating his role in cases of torture and kidnapping during his time in power.

Judge Alejandro Solís charged the general with 35 kidnappings, one homicide and 24 cases of torture in the Villa Grimaldi case. Villa Grimaldi was a secret police prison that became one of Chile’s most infamous torture centres during the military’s “dirty war” against left-wing opponents.

This is the first prosecution for torture to proceed against the former general.

“General Pinochet has been notified of his prosecution for kidnapping, one homicide and torture, and has been detained as a grave danger to society considering the gravity of the crimes. But, owing to his age, he has been granted house arrest,” Señor Solís said. On Friday the judge dismissed efforts by General Pinochet’s legal team to have the case dropped on the ground of health.

Señor Solís said that he found the former ruler lucid for his age.

General Pinochet will turn 91 next month and his legal team claims that diabetes and a series of strokes have left him suffering from mild dementia. He seized power in a violent coup in 1973, when he overthrew the democratically elected communist leader, Salvador Allende.

The Government of General Pinochet oversaw the secret kidnapping and killing of left-wing opponents. Tens of thousands were tortured and 3,000 were killed or disappeared. Among the former inmates of the Villa Grimaldi are Michelle Bachelet, the Chilean President, and her mother. The general denies any knowledge of abuses at the centre.

The effort to bring the former military leader to trial has long been a cause célèbre for human rights campaigners. He was first arrested in 1998 while in London for medical treatment, after an extradition request from Spain. But Jack Straw, then the Home Secretary, ordered his release in 2000, saying that he was medically unfit to stand trial.

Efforts to bring him to justice have since switched to Chile, where he has lost a number of rulings, including being stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 2002. In September the Supreme Court threw out his legal team’s argument that he was medically unfit to stand trial in the Villa Grimaldi case.

As well as the gathering case against him for human rights abuses, General Pinochet faces prosecution for fraud and tax evasion. His wife and children have also been charged as part of the investigation into his finances, undermining support for him among Chileans, who believed that the abuses of his regime were a price worth paying to prevent the country turning into “another Cuba”.


1973 Salvador Allende is killed in army coup. Pinochet dictatorship begins

1989 Democracy is restored after Pinochet steps down

1998 Pinochet arrested in London

2000 Pinochet unfit to face trial and returns to Chile

2004 Pinochet charged with murder and kidnapping

Times Online
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