September 16, 2005
A day after Chile’s Supreme Court opened the way for a third major trial against the 89-year-old ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet, his lawyers won another round in their efforts to protect him from prosecution for human rights abuses by his regime.
The high court on Thursday definitively cleared Pinochet of charges relating to ‘Operation Condor,’ a collaborative effort by South American dictatorships to eliminate political opponents and dispose of their bodies in other countries.
The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by relatives of victims, without addressing Pinochet’s mental capacity or health woes. The Santiago Appeals Court had on June 7 effectively let stand arguments by his defense that mild dementia makes Pinochet mentally unfit to stand trial.
The same argument defeated efforts three years earlier to prosecute Pinochet for the ‘Caravan of Death,’ a military unit that scoured Chile the month after the coup that brought him to power in 1973 and killed around 100 political opponents.
But Pinochet’s legal troubles are far from over. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court allowed lawyers to lay separate charges over the disappearance of regime opponents in another case known as ‘Operation Colombo.’
“It’s disgraceful and inexplicable for the world that one day they strip Pinochet of his legal immunity, and the next day they release him from other charges for procedural reasons,” said attorney Eduardo Contreras, who was involved in the ‘Condor’ case.
The Condor charges were laid in December 2004 for the disappearances of nine people under a nefarious multinational campaign to eliminate political opponents of dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s.
Chile’s Supreme Court on Wednesday lifted Pinochet’s legal immunity so he can face charges over “Operation Colombo,” in which 119 members of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement (MIR) disappeared in July 1975 and are presumed dead.
Pinochet’s government attributed the deaths to a battle between factions within the Chilean underground movement. Pinochet was granted immunity from prosecution as the de facto head of state during that time. However, immunity may be lifted on a case-by-case basis in Chile.
The former general, a symbol of Cold War repression who drove a deep political rift through this Andean nation, has never been tried for the murders and abductions that took place under his regime.
Meanwhile, a newspaper accused Britain’s largest arms company, BAE Systems, on Thursday, of secretly paying more than $2 million (1.6 million euros) to Pinochet.
An investigation by The Guardian revealed that the defense and aerospace giant had transferred funds to Pinochet as recently as June 2004, using a front firm in the British Virgin Islands called Red Diamond Trading.
“Red Diamond Trading is used by Marketing Services to make covert payments to agents in South America who help BAE make arms and aerospace sales to Latin American governments,” The Guardian said in its exclusive, detailed report.