Former dictator Pinochet loses immunity in new human rights case

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The Independent US

The Supreme Court yesterday stripped former dictator General Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution for abuses at one of his regime's most notorious detention centers - one where current President Michelle Bachelet and her mother were tortured.

The case, which involves 59 cases of torture and kidnapping at Villa Grimaldi, is the first time torture has been specifically mentioned in one of the numerous legal cases brought against the 90-year-old former dictator.

Villa Grimaldi, a sprawling house in southeast Santiago, has been turned into a memorial park to honour the victims.

A court official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told the Associated Press that an announcement will not be made until Monday or Tuesday but "a vote took place and the immunity was lifted."

The decision, which cannot be appealed, paves the way for the judge handling the case, Alejandro Madrid, to indict Pinochet.

Villa Grimaldi was used by Pinochet's secret police for torture and even executions, according to court documents.

Bachelet, then a 22-year-old medical student, and her mother Angela Jeria were arrested months after the 1973 coup led by Pinochet and taken to Villa Grimaldi. While offering few details, both have acknowledged they were tortured, though they are not among those named in the case.

The immunity Pinochet enjoys as a former president must be lifted by the court in each case for it to go forward.

Bachelet's mother once told a Santiago newspaper that Villa Grimaldi was "one of the worst houses of torture", where "I was kept for a week in a box, blindfolded, tied up, without food."

Pinochet already is under indictment for human rights violations and tax evasion. Previous attempts to try him have failed after the courts dropped the cases based on Pinochet's poor health. He has been diagnosed with mild dementia, diabetes and arthritis, and he has a pacemaker.

The latest tests by court-appointed doctors show he is fit to stand trial.

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