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Wednesday, January 20, 1999 Published at 16:11 GMT


Lawyers request Pinochet details

Question over date when General Pinochet was recognised as leader

Legal experts have asked the Foreign Office to clarify the date on which Britain recognised General Augusto Pinochet as Chilean head of state.

The pinochet File
The request was prompted by the Spanish Government's allegations made earlier this week that the former dictator was involved in a series of crimes before he seized power on 11 September, 1973, when he could not have claimed any kind of state immunity.

Seven Law Lords are considering once again whether the 83-year-old general has immunity from arrest and potential extradition to Spain.

Date 'desirable'

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Law Lords' panel, Chief Lord Justice Browne-Wilkinson, indicated that the court considered it "desirable" to have the Foreign Office's view on the date issue.

And on Wednesday Professor Christopher Greenwood, who is handling the international law issues raised by Spain's extradition request, told the Law Lords that a letter requesting a certificate from the Foreign Office was prepared overnight. He added that the text was approved by General Pinochet's counsel.

On the third day of a hearing at the House of Lords, Professor Greenwood told the Law Lords that during this century international law came to recognise that there could be no immunity from prosecution for certain grave crimes, regardless of an individual's rank.

He argued that national courts could claim jurisdiction over those crimes.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson interrupted, saying he did not consider the case a matter of national jurisdiction but rather of whether, under English law, General Pinochet is entitled to immunity as a former head of state.

Pre-coup plots

Earlier in the week Mr Alun Jones QC, leading the case for the Spanish Government, told the court that crimes in which General Pinochet was implicated were planned and carried out even before the coup.

In August 1973, for example, a number of people were tortured at a naval base in order to keep secret the coup plan, he said. On the day of the coup, at least 20 people were seized, tortured and probably killed before the general was formally declared the head of the junta that night.

He said that even after the coup, it was many months before General Pinochet formally became the head of state.

Last November, a different panel of five Law Lords ruled that Pinochet was not immune from arrest and prosecution. But that decision was set aside when it was ruled that the links of one of the judges, Lord Hoffmann, with the human rights organisation Amnesty International, should have disqualified him from sitting.

General Pinochet's lawyers will be presenting their arguments later this week.

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