Pinochet affair: Pinochet to be sued by victims

Click to follow
The Independent Online
GENERAL Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who was arrested in London on Friday, is to face an action in British courts instigated by some of his alleged victims who live in this country.

As a diplomatic storm between Britain, Chile and Spain worsened, Downing Street denied that the Government had taken a political decision to allow the arrest.

Last night, General Pinochet vowed to fight extradition - meaning it could be months or even years before a decision is made on whether he goes to Spain to face charges of torture, murder and genocide.

According to legal sources, the general will now be accused under English civil and criminal law by those who want redress for their sufferings. Any action in Britain will take precedence over the application for his extradition to Spain.

His opponents fear that the cases mounted in Spain by Judge Baltasar Garzon might fail. They have greater confidence in actions brought in British courts. They will be seeking damages in their civil action and are likely to ask for any assets General Pinochet has in Britain to be frozen.They also seek to press criminal charges which carry possible jail sentences.

In a statement issued by his London solicitors, Kingsley Napley, the 82-year-old general declared that he would "resolutely oppose" any effort to extradite him.

The Government was forced on to the defensive by Tory claims that ministers were indulging in "gesture politics" and suggestions by his lawyers that the former dictator was the victim of a "set-up" by the British authorities when he came to London for treatment at a private hospital. Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "It is a legal process being followed and will continue to be followed. It is not a political decision, nor a political process."

Chile's ambassador, Mario Artaza, delivered a protest to the Foreign Office, reiterating his government's anger. He dismissed suggestions of an attempt to shield General Pinochet, who is accused of involvement in the killing or disappearance of thousands of people, and rejected Spanish jurisdiction in the case. Chile was seeking to protect its institutions, "and somebody who was travelling on a diplomatic passport and who is a senator in Chile". The Foreign Office says that a diplomatic passport is no guarantee of immunity.

Yesterday, Judge Garzon broadened the arrest warrant to include charges of genocide, torture and terrorism in 94 cases, including those involving Britons, Americans and Argentinians - adding 15 more victims to the 79 Spaniards listed in the original accusations.