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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June 2005, 20:17 GMT 21:17 UK
Mixed day in court for Pinochet
Augusto Pinochet photographed in 2003
Augusto Pinochet had immunity as a former head of state
Augusto Pinochet may be charged with tax evasion but not over human rights abuses committed when he was Chile's military ruler, a court has ruled.

The appeals court in Santiago stripped him of the immunity to prosecution he enjoys as a former president, allowing a financial inquiry to go forward.

But it also ruled him too ill to be charged with killings in the 1970s.

It was the last human rights charge to be brought against the 89-year-old, whose lawyers insist on his innocence.

The judges find it unacceptable that Pinochet might be a thief but consider the possibility that he could be a murderer unimportant
Eduardo Contreras
human rights lawyer

The court accepted that the general was not mentally fit enough to be prosecuted over Operation Condor - a joint campaign by as many as six South American regimes to hunt down and kill their opponents.

Human rights lawyer Eduardo Contreras said Tuesday's rulings suggested money was more important than blood in Chile.

"The judges find it unacceptable that Pinochet might be a thief but consider the possibility that he could be a murderer unimportant," said the lawyer, who represents families bereaved under his rule.

The former leader was treated in hospital last month after suffering what aides said was a suspected mild stroke.

Tax charges

Gen Pinochet is accused of failing to tell the Chilean tax authorities about millions of dollars stored in foreign accounts.

Lawyers say the money was used for matters of state but correspondents say the case is already damaging his image.

"In four out of five areas of investigation, the judges voted for removing immunity," Juan Escobar, president of the 25-judge Santiago Appeals Court, told reporters at the courthouse on Tuesday.

The former leader may now be investigated for tax evasion, false declaration, eluding an international assets embargo and the use of false passports but the judges dismissed an allegation of illegal land purchases.

His lawyers are expected to appeal against the lifting of their client's immunity.

Chilean Judge Sergio Munoz has been investigating the general's finances.

Last year, a US Senate report found he had hid at least $13m in US bank accounts.

Gen Pinochet, his family and senior officers set up 125 bank accounts, mostly in the US, that report said.

Defence lawyers have rejected the Senate's findings as a "real joke".

See the ailing former dictator and his prosecutors

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