Pinochet is indicted on 2,700 counts

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The Independent Online

The formal criminal indictment of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was presented yesterday in Spain, listing 2,700 victims of his military regime and accusing him of "diabolical" acts of mass murder, torture and terrorism.

The formal criminal indictment of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was presented yesterday in Spain, listing 2,700 victims of his military regime and accusing him of "diabolical" acts of mass murder, torture and terrorism.

Baltasar Garzon, the investigating judge seeking General Pinochet's extradition from Britain, also sought to have his assets frozen worldwide.

Garzon's indictment lists victims from Spain, the United Sates and from most Latin American country. And Garzon outlines Pinochet's feared 'Operation Condor', his campaign against political opponents backed by Argentina and other South American dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s.

Garzon said the operation was aimed at "developing and executing a systematic criminal plan of illegal detentions, kidnappings, tortures followed by death, forced displacement of thousands of people and the selective disappearance of about 3,000." The fresh round of battles over the fate of the general came after the decision by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, not to oppose his extradition to Spain, and the day before he was due to appear in an English court for the first time since his arrest two months ago. The general's lawyers appealed to the House of Lords, asking them to overturn its own ruling on the grounds of the alleged potential bias of one of the law lords.

Lord Hoffmann, who gave the casting vote in the ruling, is a director of a charity linked to Amnesty International, the human rights pressure group, and his wife works there as an administrative assistant. The pressure group represented victims of the Pinochet regime at the hearing and argued against him benefiting from immunity.

The judicial office of the House of Lords said it was the first time such an application had been made, and the procedure to handle the appeal has to be formulated. A preliminary hearing, however, is due to take place next Tuesday.

General Pinochet's solicitors, Kingsley Napley, confirmed that they were considering asking for a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision.

Last night Amnesty International published documents seeking to indicate the apolitical nature of the charity appeal, and showing that it had been backed by, among others, Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Woolf, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the Lord Chief Justice. Lord Bingham supported General Pinochet's claims of immunity in the High Court before the Lords hearing.

They also produced a letter from William Hague, Leader of the Opposition, praising Amnesty International. In it, Mr Hague stated: "I would be delighted to endorse your campaign pledge. The promotion of human rights around the world is a noble cause and I comment your work in this area..."

Kingsley Napley had itself made donations to Amnesty International, and a spokesman for the organisation stressed that neither Lord Hoffmann nor his wife had played any part in policy over General Pinochet. The general's lawyers have already made representations to the Home Secretary about Lord Hoffmann. In his ruling on Wednesday Mr Straw, who had taken legal advice, dismissed the claims.

In their submission to the Home Office, the general's lawyers stated: "Unbeknownst to the Senator at the time of the hearing, Lord Hoffman (sic) is a married man whose wife, Gillian Steiner, is an employee and a member of Amnesty International.

"Had the Senator known of this connection, he would have objected to Lord Hoffman sitting on the judicial Committee that heard his case. As it is, it is the submission of the Senator that the judgement of the House of Lords should not have been permitted to stand. Without the decision of Lord Hoffman, the House of Lords would have been deadlocked".

Relatives of the general's victims packed Santiago's National Sports Stadium at an anti-Pinochet demonstration yesterday carrying photographs of relatives and reading from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The night before, noisy demonstrations by Pinochet supporters ended with water cannons deployed to disperse 200 protestors. Some 50 people were arrested.

Although Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, has refused to make ajudgement on the Home Secretary's decision, he was criticised by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms.