Arrests Made in Letelier-Moffitt Murders

30 June 1978
Article

General Pinochet's days are numbered, a high State Department official confided to Isabel Letelier, widow of Orlando Letelier, as recent new developments became known in the investigation of his assassination.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

General Pinochet's days are numbered, a high State Department official confided to Isabel Letelier, widow of Orlando Letelier, as recent new developments became known in the investigation of his assassination. Ironically, the official continued, your husband's murder has become the instrument which all Pinochet's enemies have begun to use to rid themselves of the tyrant.

Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the United States, and Ronni Karpen Moffitt died on September 21, 1976 when a bomb exploded in the car being driven by Letelier on the way to the Institute for Policy Studies, where both worked. Michael Moffitt, Ronni's husband, who was riding in the back seat, miraculously survived the explosion.

After talking with the State Department official, Mrs. Letelier confirmed from contacts in Chile that Pinochet's image had reached an all-time low. When he appears on television now, said a Chilean journalist in Washington, he resembles a puppy who has just made wee wee on the rug. If Pinochet's governmental carpet is stained, the stain comes from human blood. The FBI and Assistant US Attorney in charge of the case have extensive circumstancial evidence that DINA, Chile's secret police - recently officially renamed - hired Cuban exiles to assassinate Letelier, and that the trail of the murder order leads directly to Pinochet's own door.

On April 7, Michael Vernon Townley, a US citizen who has lived most of his life in Chile, was arrested in Chile and turned over to US officials. He is being held in Washington DC area - without bail - as a material witness in the case. Townley served as the equivalent of a CIA case officer in the murder plot (indeed, the CIA organized DINA in its own image). He oversaw the entire assassination plot. This including contacting leaders of Brigade 2506, the organization of the Bay of Pigs veterans, and activists from the MNC, an ideologically fascist group of exile terrorists. They, in turn, placed Letelier under surveillance, and attached a C-4 plastic explosive to the I-Beam of his Chevrolet, with a remote control-operated detonator bought by Townley. Part of the planning involved an American connection, a former CIA officer who worked secretly with DINA officials. The American adviser worked as a consultant and helped activate a cover plan to throw police off the track and to disinform the public by planting false and misleading stories about Letelier in the press.

Initially, the FBI investigation of the murders bogged down while false leads were pursued and as the CIA withheld or planted false information with investigative bodies. FBI Special Agent Carter Cornick and Asst. US Atty. Eugene Propper, however, overcame the obstacles in their paths. In January, they placed their evidence before representatives of the State Department and asked the department to deliver a letters rogatory motion, designed to investigate suspected criminals abroad. In early March, Propper filed the letters rogatory with the State Department. The procedure involved the submission by the US Ambassador in Chile of a series of questions to individuals there which were then delivered by the Chilean Foreign Minister to the Chilean court system. Once the trail led US authorities to Chilean soil, a series of odd happenings alerted opposition forces from all sectors that Pinochet's clutch on Chile's power structure had begun to loosen. The move opened the door for the Chilean press - muzzled for over four years - to begin to reassert itself. It began to conduct its own investigation of the case, revealing new material and asking embarrassing questions of Pinochet himself. This winter, Pinochet, knowing of US moves to investigate DINA officials, called for a plebiscite, without the consent of at least two of the other members of the 4-man ruling junta.

The January plebiscite was conducted in such a way as to ensure support for himself and subjected Pinochet to world-wide ridicule. Soon afterwards, news of the letters rogatory procedure reached him. Chilean officials denied that anyone bearing the names mebntioned therein existed. El Mercurio, Chile's leading daily and the principal press weapon against Allende, then ran the photos of the two DINA agents. Pinochet said neither photo belonged to a member of the Chilean armed forces. Soon thereafter, El Mercurio provided the real names for the aliases which accompanied the letters rogatory request. Armando Fernandez Larios, one of the persons identified, was a captain in the Chilean Army. Pinochet went on television and explained that the newspaper copes of the photo had too little detail for him to make a positive identification. Ass. US Atty. Propper flew to Chile with FBI Special Agent Carter Cornick on March 19. High State Department officials made known to the press their understanding that strong evidence supported the allegations made from the outset by Mrs. Letelier, Mr. Moffitt and the Institute for Policy Studies, that Pinochet and his DINA were deeply involved in the murders.

In March, the DINA Director, General Manuel Contreras, resigned voluntarily. Unconfirmed reports state that Contreras has been placed under house arrest, has committed suicide, or has disappeared. Townley and Fernandez were produced for interrogation by a Chilean court when Propper and Cornick made a second trip to Chile, after more threats were made by the US State Department. Pinochet, with his back to the wall, has made new concessions with every new revelation. The State of Siege, after four years, was suddenly decreed to be only a State of Emergency. Exiled critics, such as Christian Democrat leader Jaime Castillo Velasco, are being allowed to return to the country. Pinochet has claimed that he has now released into exile most political prisoners. The curfew has been dropped completely, and elections, which Pinochet swore would not come for at least 10 years, are now promised for early next year. As a Washington-based reporter for a Chilean magazine said, the Letelier-Moffitt murders have become the instrument for Pinochet's undoing. Bloody poetry.