Swiss join attempt to try Pinochet over kidnap

 

The former Chilean dictator Gen Augusto Pinochet was involved in the deaths of "at least 4,000 people", the High Court in London was told yesterday, as a Chilean air force jet remained on the runway at an RAF base in Oxfordshire ready to take him back to Chile should his arrest prove unlawful. With mounting concern in Chile and Spain about the outcome of the Spanish request for Gen Pinochet's extradition for alleged crimes of torture, murder and illegal detention, the Swiss authorities yesterday called for his continued detention in connection with the disappearance of a Swiss-Chilean national in 1977.

The Swiss State Prosecutor, Mr Bernard Bertossa, said the request for Gen Pinochet's arrest followed a criminal complaint filed last week alleging that Mr Alexis Jaccard, who had been studying in Buenos Aires, had been kidnapped by Chilean secret police. The Swiss authorities had come to the conclusion that "the legal conditions are in place to open an inquiry in the case of Augusto Pinochet Ugarte", he said. "The investigating judge has decided to call for the provisional arrest of Augusto Pinochet with a view to his extradition to Switzerland."

Chile's Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Mariano Fernandez, yesterday called for Gen Pinochet's release, saying there were no grounds for a Spanish judge to prosecute him in Spain. Mr Fernandez held talks with the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Robin Cook, in London at the weekend in an attempt to resolve the situation and he said afterwards that Chile had its own legal system for trying human rights abuses, "including 14 processes against Pinochet".

In the High Court, Mr Alun Jones QC, for the Crown Prosecution Service, told the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, sitting with Mr Justice Collins and Mr Justice Richards, that fresh information would be presented to the Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, which would reveal that Gen Pinochet was involved in the systematic extermination of his enemies under the policy known as Operation Condor. It was alleged that between 1976 and 1983, he worked with other Latin American leaders to detain, abduct and murder citizens of Chile, Spain, the UK, the US and other countries.

It was also alleged that in 1975, after Gen Pinochet attended the funeral of the former Spanish dictator, Gen Franco, agents from the Chilean secret police organisation DINA travelled to Spain "intending to seek out Chilean dissidents with the intention of killing them". Mr Jones argued that under the Taking of Hostages Act 1992, a trial could take place in Britain "of anyone from anywhere in the world who kidnaps anyone from anywhere in the world".

Gen Pinochet's lawyers produced a number of arguments contesting the grounds of his arrest warrant. Appearing for Gen Pinochet, Mr Clive Nicholls QC, claimed that as a head of state at the time of the alleged crimes he had immunity from prosecution and had "continuing immunity" as a former head of state under international law and the Vienna Convention. Furthermore, he argued, Gen Pinochet was a Chilean citizen and not Spanish and therefore Britain had no jurisdiction under the 1989 Extradition Act to send him to Spain for trial.

Gen Pinochet's continued detention could spark off a series of bizarre incidents: "Any attempt to deny Senator Pinochet immunity will open up the prospect of the Queen being extradited from America to Argentina for the murder of Argentinian nationals killed in the Falklands or to Ireland for the murder of Irish citizens in Gibraltar," he said.

However, Mr Jones argued that Queen Elizabeth could not be arrested on an extradition warrant because she was a serving monarch.

Mr Nicholls insisted that allowing Gen Pinochet to go free was not a case similar to that of "a Hitler going unpunished", but that if he were to stand trial it should take place in an international court established by the United Nations. He also accused the British Home Secretary of "sitting" on the original arrest warrant, which was "invalid", while he waited for the second warrant, which was issued last Friday. The hearing was adjourned.

Reuters adds from Miami: Cuban American opponents of President Fidel Castro, taking a cue from the detention of Gen Pinochet, said yesterday they were building a case against the communist leader in the hope that he too would be arrested abroad.

Leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation, a rich and powerful exile organisation, accused Dr Castro of committing genocide, murder and torture in the 29 years of his rule.

"What is the difference between a dictator of the right or left? We say there is no difference. It is important that the truth be told about Cuba and its victims," said Mr Jorge Mas Santos, vice-chairman of CANF.

In Barcelona, Spain, around 3,000 people marched yesterday demanding that Britain extradite Gen Pinochet. The crowd walked through the city shouting "Pinochet, murderer" and "Chile and Catalonia against the dictator."