Spanish Judge Fights Deal to let Pinochet off the Hook

4 August 1999
Adela Gooch and Nick Hopkins

The Spanish high court judge who has masterminded the country's attempt to have General Augusto Pinochet tried on charges of torture and terrorism yesterday demanded an end to negotiations which could halt the former dictator's extradition from Britain

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

The Spanish high court judge who has masterminded the country's attempt to have General Augusto Pinochet tried on charges of torture and terrorism yesterday demanded an end to negotiations which could halt the former dictator's extradition from Britain. In a three-page letter to Spanish foreign minister Abel Matutes, Baltasar Garzóon warned that talks between Madrid and Santiago over a Chilean proposal to have the case against Pinochet settled by an arbitration tribunal directly challenged the principle of independent justice. He said the proposal could be interpreted as interference in a matter which comes exclusively under penal jurisdiction, and asked for details of the discussions between Matutes and the Chilean foreign minister Juan Gabriel Valdes, who suggested the idea in a letter to the Spanish government on July 23. Mr Garzón, whose detention order led to General Pinochet's arrest in London 10 months ago, demanded to know whether Spain had passed evidence relating to the prosecution case to the Chileans.

Under the Valdes plan, Spain would drop its extradition request and pass the case to a three-judge tribunal - one appointed by Spain, another by Chile and the third agreed by both. A 1984 International Treaty against Torture makes provision for such a tribunal but it would require Spain to pass a special law or parliamentary motion. On Monday the Spanish government, which is concerned about damaging its strong economic links with Chile and is wary of conducting a show trial, confirmed it is studying the possibility.

Opposition leaders in Spain and human rights campaigners have denounced the arbitration plan. Yesterday the parliamentary spokesman for the Catalan nationalist coalition, which backs Spain's minority conservative government in parliament, described it as political chicanery. We are not willing to bow to shady political expediency, said Josep Lopez de Lerma. The far left political grouping United Left said it would not support any deal. It is thought the Popular Party government of prime minister Jose Maria Aznar hoped the British courts would rule that the general had politicial immunity.

In London, anti-Pinochet campaigners were horrified to learn that a deal was being discussed. Geoffrey Bindman, the solicitor who represents Amnesty International, said he would write to the attorney general, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to ask whether Pinochet, 83, could be tried in Britain if the Spanish abandoned its extradition request.

Mr Garzón initially charged Pinochet in connection with the deaths and disappearances of more than 3,000 people during his 17-year rule. The number was cut to less than 40 when the Law Lords ruled Pinochet was answerable only for abuses after 1988.

 

Copyright 1999 The Guardian