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2000: Pinochet escapes torture trial charges

Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet is heading home after being told the UK would not extradite him on torture charges.

After 16 months of legal wrangling, General Pinochet was told earlier today by UK Home Secretary Jack Straw that he was free to leave.

A Chilean Air Force jet took off from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire at 1315 GMT with the 84-year-old general on board.

General Pinochet was arrested in London in October 1998 at the request of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon who is seeking to put him on trial for human rights abuses during his 17-year rule in Chile.

He is expected to arrive in Chile to a hero's welcome from supporters.

But campaigners for alleged victims of his regime were bitter about the decision.

Chile Democratico, a group of Chilean exiles in Britain, said the Home Secretary had "failed the cause of human rights" and accused the British and Chilean governments of a "stitch-up".


"A trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible"

UK Home Secretary Jack Straw

Only a last-minute legal challenge could have delayed the general's departure.

But Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and France - the countries seeking his extradition - said they would not, or could not, appeal.

Mr Straw made his decision after re-examining a medical report filed on General Pinochet in January.

Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons shortly after General Pinochet's departure Mr Straw said he was aware the general was now unlikely to stand trial.

"I was driven to the conclusion that a trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible," Mr Straw said.

The Conservatives have welcomed today's decision, but leader William Hague accused Labour of incompetence.

He said 4m of public money had been wasted on "moral posturing" which had achieved nothing.

In Context
Augusto Pinochet never stood trial.

In July 2002 Chile's Supreme Court upheld a controversial verdict that found him mentally unfit to stand trial for human rights crimes.

A few days later General Pinochet resigned his post as senator-for-life in Chile's parliament citing health reasons.

General Pinochet died aged 91 in Santiago in December 2006.

Despite his human rights record, many Chileans loved him and said he saved the country from Marxism.

But even many loyal supporters abandoned him after it became clear in 2004 that he had stolen about $27m in secret offshore bank accounts that were under investigation at the time of his death.


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