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Thursday, May 27, 1999 Published at 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK


Pinochet challenge rejected

General Pinochet denies charges against him as "lies of Spain"

The High Court has turned down an application to challenge a decision by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, allowing extradition proceedings against General Augusto Pinochet to go ahead.

The pinochet File

Although this comes as a major setback for the 83-year-old general, who has been under house arrest for seven months, it is by no means the end of the road for his lawyers.

The BBC's Joshua Rozenberg reports from outside the High Court: "This is by no means the end of the road for General Pinochet"
They can either make the request to challenge Mr Straw's decision again at another court, or they could await the outcome of extradition proceedings and then make a fresh challenge in the High Court.

Those proceedings are due to go ahead before London's Bow Street Magistrates' on 4 June.

Rejecting the application for judicial review, the judge, Mr Justice Ognall said that the Pinochet case should not be held up any longer, for the sake of both parties concerned.

"It is in everyone's interest, not least that of the applicant, that a final determination of this extradition process is made as soon as properly ordered circumstances allow," he said.

'Irrational' decision

Earlier, lawyers for the former Chilean dictator argued that Mr Straw's decision had been "irrational".

Clive Nicholls QC, appearing for Pinochet, said that of the 32 charges originally levelled against the general, all except three were considered by the Law Lords to be "untenable".

He told the judge: "The decision of the Secretary of State is irrational in the sense that it simply doesn't add up."

Spanish judges want the 83-year-old to stand trial for alleged human rights crimes.

But the general's lawyers argued:

  • Spain had no jurisdiction over Chile
  • Too much time had passed since the alleged crimes took place
  • He could be tried in Chile, even though the Chileans had not asked for him to be extradited

General Pinochet, who was arrested in London last October and is staying in a Surrey mansion, was not present in court.

He was originally held at the request of Spain, which wants to try him on torture allegations dating from his 1973-1990 rule in Chile.

He denies the allegations, calling them "the lies of Spain".

Fit for trial

The ailing general is under police guard 24 hours a day and may only leave the mansion on the exclusive Wentworth estate for medical checks.

Mr Straw - who has the power to block General Pinochet's extradition on compassionate grounds - has twice declared him fit for trial.

But he said the case could be re-examined if there were new developments.

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