Garzon demands €2.6bn for victims of Argentina's torturers

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The Independent Online

The Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon has demanded more than €2.6bn (£1.9bn) compensation from scores of former military officers accused of torture and murder during Argentina's dictatorship in the Seventies and Eighties.

The demand is the latest, boldest, step in Judge Garzon's campaign to bring Argentine human rights abusers to justice: he has requested extradition of 48 people on charges of kidnap, murder, torture and robbery, on behalf of Spanish victims. Those accused include former leaders of military juntas that ruled Argentine from 1976 to 1983.

Judge Garzon's crusade promises to confirm the principle that former torturers can be tried outside their countries, despite attempts by their nation's politicians to protect them.

Witnesses told the judge Argentine officers built huge empires on money and properties stolen from victims. The €2.6bn represents the amount victims could claim if those accused are found guilty.

These crimes are not mere history. Last week General Antonio Bussi, a notorious leader of the "dirty war" and former governor of Argentina's Tucuman province, was elected mayor of the provincial capital San Miguel. Known in the mid-Seventies as the Butcher of Tucuman for the savagery with which he liquidated opponents, General Bussi won the poll by 17 votes, in a turnout of more than 160,000, against his Peronist opponent, the son of a desaparecido.

General Bussi was exonerated by Argentina's amnesty laws in 1987, and he pursued a political career until he was engulfed in scandal over his inexplicably vast fortune. His funds, held mainly in Swiss accounts, may be frozen by Judge Garzon's order.

Last month, Mexico extradited the Argentine former naval officer Ricardo Cavallo to Spain at the judge's request. Mr Cavallo, in prison in Madrid, is accused of supervising torture and disappearances, babies included, in Buenos Aires. One witness, Fernando Gomez, whose lawyer father disappeared, said: "They stole from my father racehorses, luxury cars, country estates, apartments, the family home and companies worth $11m." The money went to Mr Cavallo and his taskforce, Mr Gomez said.