December 26, 2005

Chile’s Pinochet loses appeal in rights charges

By Antonio de la Jara

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Chilean ex-dictator Augusto
Pinochet lost a key appeal before the Supreme Court on Monday
and must now face charges for the disappearance of leftists
during his regime.

Pinochet, who ruled Chile for 17 years after leading a 1973
coup, must now face the first of a series of human rights
charges against him related to Operation Colombo, in which 119
members of an armed revolutionary group disappeared in the mid
1970s and are presumed dead.

The panel of five judges from the Santiago-based Supreme
Court ruled three versus two to reject the defense argument
that Pinochet's health problems, which include mild dementia
caused by frequent mini-strokes, made him unfit to face a
criminal process.

He will face charges in six cases of people who disappeared
during his dictatorship. The Supreme Court is still considering
a separate appeal motion from the defense for three other cases
related to the Colombo disappearances.

"The first instance for appeal has been confirmed as
rejected, by three votes to two. The second appeal was left for
tomorrow (Tuesday)," said Judge Alberto Chaignau.

In the past five years, Chile's courts have thrown out
three human rights cases against Pinochet because of his poor
health, but some doctors on a new court-ordered medical panel
have said he had exaggerated his symptoms.

Pinochet's legal woes have built in recent months as courts
continue to strip him of his immunity on a case by case basis.

Pablo Rodriguez, who leads Pinochet's defense team, said
the court ruling on Monday contradicts others in which the
evidence against him was ruled insufficient.

"On the one hand he is said to be responsible (for crimes)
and on the other hand there is no proof of that
responsibility," Rodriguez told local radio.

Pinochet has been under house arrest since late November on
other human rights charges.

In November he was indicted for tax fraud and other crimes
related to some $27 million hidden in foreign bank accounts.

The Pinochet regime is accused of covering up the Operation
Colombo deaths by planting false news stories saying that
members of the Revolutionary Leftist Movement killed each other
in an internal dispute and armed confrontation.