August 7, 2006

Judge seeks to indict Pinochet over missing priest

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - A judge petitioned one of
Chile's top courts on Monday to strip ex-dictator Augusto
Pinochet's immunity from prosecution so he can be investigated
and possibly indicted for his suspected role in the 1974
disappearance of a Spanish priest.

The priest, Antonio Llido, who belonged to a religious
group that supported socialism and opposed the dictatorship,
was detained in September 1974 by the military government's
secret police.

Witnesses say Llido was tortured and interrogated by the
secret police. He is presumed dead because all traces of him
vanished in October 1974, but his body has never been found.

Members of the secret police have been tried in the case
but none were convicted, and a group of Chilean and Spanish
priests decided to file a lawsuit against Pinochet. Judge Jorge
Zepeda was assigned the case and asked the Santiago Appeals
Court to decide the immunity issue.

Pinochet, now 90 years old, led a 1973 coup and subsequent
17-year military dictatorship in Chile, during which more than
3,000 people died in political violence and tens of thousands
were detained and tortured.

Fabiola Letelier, the attorney representing the priests,
said there was ample proof of Pinochet's responsibility in the

"There is multiple evidence against (him). One of them is
the meeting of a group of Spanish priests with Pinochet, who
said when shown a picture of Llido, "This isn't a priest, it's
an extremist," Letelier said.

"This proves that Pinochet knew about the victim's
situation," Letelier said.

Under Chilean law the courts may rule on Pinochet's
immunity, a privilege of former presidents, on a case-by-case

The former dictator has been stripped of immunity in
several other human rights cases, but some previous indictments
were thrown out of court after his defense argued that he was
too ill to face trial.

Pinochet has also been indicted on tax evasion charges
related to an estimated $27 million he held in offshore
accounts. He is also being investigated on charges of

(Additional reporting by Erik Lopez)