Pinochet Loses Extradition Ruling
LONDON (AP) _ Defiantly proclaiming his innocence, Gen. Augusto Pinochet of Chile accused Spain of orchestrating a political vendetta against him after a London magistrate ruled Friday that the former dictator should be extradited to Spain to face torture charges.
``Spain has not provided a single piece of evidence which shows that I am guilty,″ the 83-year-old general said in a statement, adding that the Spanish push for extradition violates the sovereignty of Chile.
Nearly a hundred anti-Pinochet demonstrators erupted into cheers outside Bow Street Magistrate’s Court, chanting, ``He’s going to Spain! He’s going to Spain!″ after the ruling was announced.
Pinochet’s opponents also celebrated in downtown Madrid and the Chilean capital of Santiago, while the general’s supporters in Chile wept and burned British and Spanish flags.
But Pinochet, who has been detained in London for nearly a year after being arrested on an international warrant, won’t be going to Spain anytime soon. An appeal of Friday’s decision could keep the case in the British courts for many more months.
And even after all legal options are exhausted, Home Secretary Jack Straw still must ultimately approve extradition.
Pinochet was arrested Oct. 16 in London while recovering from spinal surgery. Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon has accused him of masterminding a campaign of terror against political opponents during his 17-year regime.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Ronald Bartle ruled Friday that Spain’s single allegation of conspiracy to torture and 34 charges of torture constituted extraditable crimes and that, even though none of the alleged victims were Spanish, Spain had authority to try the general.
``Today’s decision represents another significant step in a remarkable case that has moved human rights into a new era,″ said Javier Zuniga of Amnesty International, which has petitioned to put Pinochet on trial.
An official Chilean government report has acknowledged that 3,197 people died or disappeared after Pinochet toppled Chile’s elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in a bloody 1973 coup.
Pinochet relinquished power in 1990, and became a senator for life. He is protected from prosecution at home now by an amnesty law that he helped pass.
``This is a great day of justice for all his victims,″ Nicole Drouilly, whose sister disappeared during Pinochet’s rule, said Friday outside the London court. ``It shows that we are not forgotten.″
In many ways, Friday’s ruling was a legal formality because magistrate courts are not empowered to consider any evidence or a defense. But human rights groups said aspects of Bartle’s decision will now make the Spanish case even stronger.
In March, Britain’s House of Lords threw out the bulk of the Spanish allegations, letting stand only charges of crimes allegedly committed after 1988, when a law went into effect in Britain making torture a crime that can be prosecuted by any nation.
Since that decision, Garzon has added dozens of post-1988 torture allegations to bolster his case.
Bartle ruled that those fresh charges are valid. And he also said that Spanish prosecutors can try to buttress the single conspiracy charge by looking at torture allegations before 1988 _ which human rights groups contend was the most brutal period of Pinochet’s regime _ since conspiracy is considered an ongoing offense.
``This is opening the possibility of a real trial in Spain on the totality of Pinochet’s criminal conduct,″ said Reed Brody of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Garzon issued no public comment Friday. Spanish news reports said he learned of the ruling on the radio in his office at the National Court in Madrid.
Pinochet’s lawyers have 15 days to appeal to the High Court, where they are expected to argue that Spain’s efforts to extradite the general are politically motivated. After all legal options are exhausted, Straw still must make a final ruling, in which he is able to consider humanitarian and political concerns, as well as legal issues.
Pinochet was not in court Friday, excused from attending after his lawyers argued his health was too poor.
In the statement read by one of his lawyers, Pinochet argued that ``events in Chile have nothing whatsoever to do with Spain.″
``It has long been clear that my extradition is politically motivated,″ he said.
Pinochet’s loyalists called on Chile to pressure for his swift release, saying his health would not allow him to stand trial.
``This is the worst scenario we could have expected. It’s negative not only for us, but for all Chile,″ said Luis Cortes, a retired general who is executive director of the Pinochet Foundation.