Second judge helps case for extradition

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The Independent Online

The hand of Judge Baltasar Garzon was strengthened yesterday in his effort to bring the former Chilean dictator August Pinochet to trial for crimes of genocide and torture, when another Spanish judge said he was dropping a parallel, but wider, case to give all his evidence to Judge Garzon.

The hand of Judge Baltasar Garzon was strengthened yesterday in his effort to bring the former Chilean dictator August Pinochet to trial for crimes of genocide and torture, when another Spanish judge said he was dropping a parallel, but wider, case to give all his evidence to Judge Garzon.

Judge Manuel Garcia Castellon said he had decided to abandon his investigation into the killing and disappearance of up to 4,000 people in Chile during General Pinochet's 1973-90 dictatorship. "This will strengthen the extradition attempt judicially, procedurally and materially," said Joan Garces, a lawyer who has worked closely over many years with both judges in gathering details and testimonies.

The Spanish government has maintained a hands-off approach, which gives a fair wind to Judge Garzon in his attempt to secure the extradition of General Pinochet to Spain to stand trial.

While remaining extremely cautious, various ministers, including the Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, yesterday reiterated that "decisions of the judicial power" must be respected.

The Foreign minister, Abel Matutes, insisted that the government "could do no more than collaborate with the decisions adopted by juridical organisms".

However, Judge Garzon must overcome an obstacle placed in his path by the National Court, which will rule next week on whether he may proceed with his extradition request.

The senior state prosecutor has already said that Chile's grisly past is nothing to do with Spain. "We think that these crimes should be judged in the countries where they took place, or in an international tribunal, but not here," said Eduardo Fungarino, chief prosecutor at the National Court.

Last year, Mr Fungarino sought to rubbish Judge Garzon's case by saying first that the charges he was investigating did not amount to genocide, and second that the military juntas that ruled Argentina and Chile at the time were just temporary interruptions in an existing constitutional regime that had proved itself incapable of maintaining order.

Many at the time criticised Mr Fungarino for being politically biased.

Mr Fungarino said yesterday that he expected the National Court's plenary to meet next week to decide whether Spanish judges were competent to probe human rights abuses in Chile and Argentina. If the plenary decides that they are not, then Judge Garzon's detention order against General Pinochet would be annulled and the question of extradition would be redundant, Mr Fungarino said.

Joan Garces was the former legal adviser for President Salvador Allende and was lucky to escape with his life when General Pinochet launched his attack on the Chilean presidential palace on 11 September 1973 and caused the death of President Allende.

Mr Garces said yesterday that much of the evidence he and others had drawn upon to build their case came from Chilean government reports issued in 1991 and 1996 and by the United States government, which some years back declassified many documents relating to the 1973 coup in Chile.

Mr Garces and others went to the US to comb these documents to seek grounds on which to take action against General Pinochet.

They derived from them much of the detailed evidence of the names, dates, places and fate of victims that appear in Judge Garzon's arrest warrant made public last Monday.

Meanwhile, Chile has stepped up its efforts to defuse a legal and diplomatic crisis that could threaten its own political stability.

As the country's ambassador in London, Mario Artaza called for a solution that "saves face for everyone", a Chilean government specialist in international law arrived from the capital Santiago to press the argument that General Pinochet, recovering from surgery in a London hospital, had diplomatic immunity and should be released.

"We have to compromise in order to continue protecting human rights and continue to create democracy," Mr Artaza said. Chile was still in a "difficult transition"; the government's duty was to protect an institutional order "which is in jeopardy".

But last night there was little hint of progress in Spain to a face- saving solution. If the legal Gordian knot is to be cut, the most likely means is a decision by the Spanish high court that Judge Garzon has no jurisdiction.

Press reports that Spanish entrepreneurs were urging caution on anti- Pinochet actions, because of Spain's powerful economic interests in Chile, were denied yesterday by the Economy minister, Cristobal Montoro.

Mr Montoro said that the arrest of General Pinochet in London last week "will not create tensions among companies that have invested in Chile... There is no risk to Spanish investments".

Spanish companies have been at the forefront of those taking advantage of Chile's massive privatisation process, and now have dominant positions in Chilean telecommunications, electricity, construction and banking industries.

A spokesman for a Spanish company with strong interests in Chile said yesterday: "It's possible that the present situation might have an impact on immediate meetings, but it will not affect the medium or long term."