Pinochet starts final bid to escape extradition

Click to follow

The former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet launched an 11th-hour legal challenge yesterday in his latest attempt to avoid extradition to Spain.

The former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet launched an 11th-hour legal challenge yesterday in his latest attempt to avoid extradition to Spain.

Lawyers acting for the general lodged the challenge at the High Court in London on the 15th day - the last possible day - after a ruling by a magistrate in London that he should be extradited to Spain to stand trial.

The move sets in motion the latest legal battle in the Pinochet saga, which could end up going to the House of Lords once more before Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, Makes a final decision on his future.

Earlier this month, Bow Street magistrates' court in central London committed General Pinochet on all 35 charges - one of conspiracy to torture and 34 of the torture of Chilean individuals.

General Pinochet immediately declared he was innocent of the crimes and challenged Spain's right to try him on charges of torture, conspiracy to torture and grievous bodily harm.

General Pinochet has applied for permission to seek a writ of habeas corpus, and is demanding that he should befreed from custody on the grounds that he is being unlawfully held. But before the full hearing - which is expected to take about five days, and is unlikely to take place before Christmas - it is thought an application will be made to a judge for directions on how the matter should proceed.

Carlos Reyes, spokesman for the London-based anti-Pinochet group Chile Democratico, said he remained confident that the general would eventually face justice despite his lawyers' latest move. "We were expecting something like this," said Mr Reyes. "But justice is taking its course, and despite his lawyers' delaying tactics, we anticipate that ultimately this will all end up in a court of law in Spain."

The human-rights campaign group Amnesty International said the general had the right to appeal against his committal, adding that the judicial process should be allowed to carry on. A spokesman, Neil Durkin, said: "Pinochet's appeal is a legitimate part of a legal process which, while denied to 3,197 acknowledged victims of murder and disappearance in Chile, is rightfully available to General Pinochet.

"We believe that the legal process should be allowed to continue free from political interference. This is vital if the victims and their relatives are to see justice done in this case."

The ruling earlier this month by the Bow Street magistrate Ronald Bartle to uphold all 35 charges, including those of conspiracy to torture, allows the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon to accuse the former dictator of using torture as an instrument of state policy.

Furthermore, Mr Bartle ruled that families of missing political prisoners had suffered from "mental torture", enabling the Spanish court to introduce 1,198 cases of people "disappeared" by the Pinochet regime into the proceedings.

The general's challengemarks the first of a long trail of appeals which would take months. If he and his legal advisers fail at the High Court they can seek leave to appeal to the House of Lords.

If those appeals fail, MrStraw, will decide whether to allow the extradition or use his discretion to free the 83-year-old former dictator on grounds of his reported ill-health. If Mr Straw allows extradition, the general can appeal again to the High Court. If that fails he can seek leave for judicial review, taking the matter back to the House of Lords.