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Court Approves US Request To Question Ex Officials in Letelier Slaying

January 11, 1989

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a U.S. request to question seven former officials of the military government in connection with the 1976 assassination in Washington of a former leftist Chilean Cabinet minister.

The court of six justices gave unanimous approval to the request and immediately transferred the documents to a Santiago lower court. Judge Carlos Banados will carry on the questioning in connection with the slaying of Orlando Letelier. No date was set.

Letelier and an American aide, Ronnie Moffitt, were killed Sept. 21, 1976 by a bomb that destroyed their car as they rode on Embassy Row in Washington.

A Supreme Court secretary, Carlos Davila, was quoted by the official news agency Orbe as saying the Court approved all questions the U.S. Justice Department submitted for the interrogations.

The court rejected a U.S. request that a U.S. representative be present during the questionings, saying it was against Chilean law.

The court also ruled that two of the seven former officials will be allowed to answer the questioning in writing because they were military officers. The other five, all civilians, will be questioned in person at the court’s building.

The seven Chileans to be questioned are Gen. Odlanier Mena, ex-head of the secret police; Miguel Schweitzer, former foreign minister; Gen. Enrique Montero, former interior minister; three former ambassadors to Washington - Jorge Cauas, Jose Miguel Barros and Manuel Trucco - and Tomas Amenabar, who was at a time the charge d’affaires in the embassy. Cauas, after leaving the embassy, was appointed finance minister.

Former ambassador Barros is now a prominent dissident and has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in the election scheduled for Dec. 14 this year.

Letelier, an avowed foe of Chile’s military President Augusto Pinochet, waa a Cabinet minister and ambassador in Washington during the leftist government of President Salvador Allende in the early 70s. Allende was overthrown in the bloody 1973 coup that brought Pinochet to power.

A former Chilean army major, Armando Fernandez Larios, who slipped out of Chile and surrendered to U.S. authorities in 1987, provided American investigators with information that led to the request for the new questionings, according to papers filed in November in Washington by a prosecutor in the case, David P. Geneson. Fernandez admitted to a lateral role in the plot that led to the Letelier killing.

Fernandez and two other high-ranking Chilean army officers had been indicted in the late 1970s in the United States in connection with the assassination, but the Chilean Supreme Court turned down a request for their extradition. The two others were Gen. Manuel Contreras Sepulveda and Col. Pedro Espinoza Bravo, the two top officers of the secret police at the time of the slaying.

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