Pinochet Vows to Fight Extradition as Spain Widens Charges

20 October 1998

The surprising arrest of General Pinochet late last Friday as he recovered from back surgery in a London clinic has stoked a political feud between government and opposition.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

Even as a Spanish judge broadened genocide charges against him, Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator who has been detained here for extradition hearings, said through his British lawyer Monday that he would "resolutely" oppose any attempt to force him to stand trial in Madrid.

The lawyer's statement, read to reporters, was General Pinochet's first comment since his arrest Friday. lt raised a question about how long extradition hearings might last if the general's attorneys used every possible form of appeal - up to the House of Lords - to extend and challenge a process, which, in other recent high-profile cases, has gone on for up to two years.

The surprising arrest of General Pinochet late last Friday as he recovered from back surgery in a London clinic has stoked a political feud between government and opposition, with Prime

Minister Tony Blair's office insisting that the general's detention was not a political act while the opposition Conservatives accused the government of misusing the law to political ends.

Most of all, in Britain, it has underscored the remarkable sea-change in political culture following last year's elections, replacing a Conservative government that took no action against the general on many previous visits with a Labour administration made up, The Independent newspaper said Monday, of people "for whom the 82-year-old general was a hate figure in their formative political years".

For General Pinochet, who once described Britain as "the ideal place to live" and provided Britain with one of its few allies in the Falklands War, the late-night arrest represented an equally abrupt turnaround in his reception by British authorities.

"General Pinochet entered the United Kingdom with the full prior knowledge of Her Majesty's government and with the approval of the Foreign Office", his lawyer, Michael Caplan, said Monday. "Upon his arrival he was treated as a VIP", Caplan said. "Permission for him to enter and stay in this country was stamped in his diplomatic passport". He added: "Over recent years, General Pinochet has travelled without hindrance to the UK on several occasions with the approval of Her Majesty's government". Mr. Caplan declined to say whether General Pinochet would seek bail during the extradition hearings or where the general might otherwise be held. Since his arrest he has been under police guard in The London Clinic, a private institution where he underwent minor back surgery oct. 9, from which he is convalescing.

The Spanish judges seeking his extradition have 40 days from the time of his arrest last Friday to complete their formal request for the general's extradition as part of the process leading up to a decision by Jack Straw, the home secretary, on whether to permit the extradition.

Britain rejects the argument that General Pinochet is protected by diplomatic immunity because he carried a diplomatic passport and is a senator-for-life in Chile. But British officials also insist that the consideration of the extradition request will not be clouded by memories of the general's 17-year-old rule in Chile, during which about 3,000 people were shot or abducted by a brutal regime.

General Pinochet came to power in the violent takeover that toppled President Salvador Allende Gossens, a left-wing leader who died in the coup. General Pinochet relinquished power in 1990, shielded from prosecution in Chile by his status as a senator-for-life.

"General Pinochet's record is well-known", Mr. Straw said Monday in a radio interview. "But so far as my position is concerned, I will treat this extradition request by Spain in the same way as 1 treat any other extradition request".

General Pinochet was detained initially on an international warrant alleging that he had been involved in the murder, torture and genocide of 79 people. Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge leading the campaign for General Pinochet's arrest, said initially that the alleged victims were all Spanish citizens whose cases fell under Spanish jurisdiction because of the country's genocide laws.

Mr. Garzón widened the accusation Monday, seeking General Pinochet's detention on charges of genocide, torture and terrorism relating to 94 people not just Spanish citizens but also citizens of Argentina, Chile, the United States and Britain.

"This widens the request for provisional, unconditional imprisonment of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte for the reasons described in this resolution on crimes of genocide, terrorism and torture", the expanded warrant said.

lt accused General Pinochet of ordering the "physical elimination, torture, kidnapping and disappearances" of citizens of other Latin American countries allegedly handed over to the Chilean secret police from 1976 to 1983.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company