Kissinger faces UK questioning over dictators' network

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Investigators from France and Spain want to question Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, about terrorist crimes orchestrated by Latin American dictators in the Seventies when he visits London next week.

The Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon asked British authorities on Monday for permission to question Dr Kissinger when he arrives in London next Wednesday to address a convention of company directors.

He wants to ask Dr Kissinger about his knowledge of the "Condor plan", a network of repression in which five military rulers collaborated to eliminate opponents. The request is based on principles of co-operation established by the European Convention on Judicial Co-operation in the fight against terrorism.

Joan Garces, a Spanish lawyer, said yesterday: "Judge Garzon wants to ask Dr Kissinger about his knowledge of the Condor plan, because he was among the immediate circle of those military rulers, including General Pinochet, who carried out tortures and illegal executions for which they were never punished."

Mr Garces said the request formed part of Spain's continuing case against the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. "Anglo-Spanish judicial co-operation has always been admirable on these matters," Mr Garces said, stressing that Britain's decision to free General Pinochet on health grounds in March 2000 was "administrative, not judicial, so the case remains open".

Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and France were seeking General Pinochet's extradition at the time.

A French lawyer, William Bourdon, said France had made a parallel request to Interpol. "I asked Judge Sophie-Helene Chateau to send a rogatory commission two days ago to the authorities in Britain for Kissinger to answer questions about the Condor plan, and about Europeans who disappeared immediately after Pinochet's coup in Chile," he told The Independent.

Mr Bourdon said: "Recently declassified CIA documents and evidence from witnesses questioned by a French judge lead us to suspect that Dr Kissinger was closely informed about the Condor plan and about French and Spanish nationals who disappeared after the 1973 coup. He is a witness. He has to contribute to the truth. He has nothing to fear. He will not be indicted."

Spain's request, made through the National Court in Madrid, asks Interpol in London to confirm "without delay" the "certainty" of Dr Kissinger's presence next Wednesday, and to "arrange questioning about matters relating to the prosecution of Augusto Pinochet and the international arrest warrant against him [Pinochet]".

While US Secretary of State in the Seventies, Dr Kissinger sent signed documents to the US embassy in Paris informing the American ambassador that Paris was to be the Condor plan's headquarters in Europe, Mr Bourdon said. "He knew precisely what was going on."

Dr Kissinger faces a criminal suit in Washington for his suspected involvement in the assassination in 1970 of the Chilean armed forces chief Rene Schneider. The case is being brought by Schneider's family.

A spokeswoman for Dr Kissinger in New York said: "Dr Kissinger is out of the country at present and no one can speak in his name."