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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK


Way cleared for Pinochet extradition

Anti-Pinochet demonstrators welcomed the ruling

Chile's former military leader, General Augusto Pinochet, can be extradited to Spain to stand trial for torture and human rights charges, a UK court has ruled.

The pinochet File
London's Bow Street Magistrates Court committed Gen Pinochet on the 35 charges he is accused of, which include one of conspiracy to torture and 34 of torture.

The BBC's Jane Peel: "The final decision will be made by the Home Secretary"
The former dictator's lawyers now have 15 days to appeal against the ruling.

The general responded to the ruling saying it was politically motivated.

"It has long been clear that my extradition is politically motivated and being pursued clearly for political reasons," said a statement read to the court by his barrister, Clive Nicholls QC.

[ image:  ]
"Spain has not produced a single piece of evidence which shows that I am guilty. Not only that, I believe that Spain have not properly investigated any of these crimes and Spain does not even have jurisdiction to try me," said the statement.

The general, who is 83, had been excused from attending Friday's hearing on the grounds of ill health.

The statement continued: "It acts in violation of the sovereignty of Chile.

"The events in Chile have nothing whatsoever to do with Spain.''

Long legal battle

The BBC's Joshua Rozenburg: "This isn't the end of the road"
In his ruling, Deputy Chief Stipendiary Magistrate Ronald Bartle told the court he was satisfied that "all the conditions are in place which oblige me under the terms of the Extradition Act 1989 to commit Senator Pinochet to await the decision of the Secretary of State".

The decision is unlikely to have any immediate impact on the year-long legal battle.

The general will remain under house arrest near London while his lawyers consider an appeal to the High Court.

[ image: Pinochet accused of having blood on his hands]
Pinochet accused of having blood on his hands
However, he may abandon his case and ask Home Secretary Jack Straw to free him on the grounds of ill health.

It will still be down to Mr Straw, who earlier ruled that the case could go forward in the courts, to make the final decision on Gen Pinochet's fate.

The decision has been welcomed by human rights groups.

Geoffrey Bindman, a lawyer for Amnesty International, said: "The wider effect of the torture convention and the knowledge which should now be spread among all torturers and all is that there is no hiding place.

"If they go to any country that has signed the torture convention they will be prosecuted and extradited as necessary."

Lord Lamont: "It would be a tragedy if Pinochet were to die in the UK"
Lord Lamont, who spoke at a rally in defence of Gen Pinochet at this week's Conservative Party conference, warned that the case would continue to go on for a "long time yet".

He said he was not surprised by the court's decision but detaining the general in the UK could seriously damage the country's relationship with Chile and South America.

Lord Lamont said: "I fear for Britain's relationship with Chile will be badly damaged, particularly if General Pinochet dies here."

[ image: Pinochet may appeal on health grounds]
Pinochet may appeal on health grounds
More than 3,000 people died or disappeared under Gen Pinochet's rule. Tens of thousands more fled rather than live under a military regime.

The ruling is the latest crucial stage in a long legal battle sparked by the general's arrest while undergoing medical treatment in London in October last year.

His detention was upheld by Britain's highest court, the House of Lords, in March, although it reduced the charges against him to those dated after December 1988, when Britain incorporated an international torture convention into law.

Senor Garzon then added more post-1988 charges. But Gen Pinochet's lawyers argued that all but two of these are invalid because they did not appear in the original charges against him at the time of his arrest.

The defence team also argued that some of the charges do not meet the international definition for torture, that Spain does not have jurisdiction, and that the general cannot be held personally responsible for the alleged crimes.

But the prosecution said the general could be extradited even on the basis of just one torture charge.

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