From email@example.com Fri Mar 17 18:17:12 2000
Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2000 21:53:26 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: POLITICS-CHILE: US Inquiry May Link Pinochet to Letelier Murder
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.
US Inquiry May Link Pinochet to Letelier Murder
By Gustavo Gonzalez, IPS
15 March 2000
SANTIAGO, Mar 15 (IPS) - The US Justice Department's decision to
re-open investigations into the 1976 assassination of a former
Chilean foreign minister and his assistant could mean the eventual
implication of former dictator Augusto Pinochet in the crime.
Juan Bustos, a Chilean attorney and socialist legislator, said
Wednesday that renewed inquiries into the murder of Orlando
Letelier, who had also served as Chile's defence minister, and his
secretary, Ronni Karpen Moffitt, may mean further legal troubles
ahead for his country's former dictator.
A Washington DC court is studying the case of the Sept 21, 1976
car-bomb assassination, which occurred in the US capital just one
kilometre from the White House.
The court has sent a petition to Chilean justice authorities to
request the questioning of 46 former officials and collaborators
under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).
Among those listed on the request are former directors and agents
of the military regime's secret police, as well as former
ministers - many of who also appear on Spanish judge Baltasar
Garz¢n's roster of Chile's "extraditables."
The US petition, sent through diplomatic channels to the Chilean
Supreme Court, was released Tuesday and caused some surprise among
political and legal circles as well as the individuals named on
Chilean justice authorities consider the "Letelier case"
closed, because on May 30, 1995 its Supreme Court handed down
prison sentences to the two principal figures behind the
Retired army general Manuel Contreras, a former chief of the
National Intelligence Directorate (DINA), was condemned to seven
years in prison, and the DINA's former second-in-command, retired
brigadier Pedro Espinoza, was sentenced to six.
The fact that the attack committed by DINA agents and anti-Castro
Cubans resulted in the death of Letelier's secretary, Ronni
Moffitt, a US citizen, means it is still an open case in that
country, explained Bustos, who also serves as legal counsel for
Letelier's widow and children.
In 1978, the Chilean Supreme Court refused the extradition of
Contreras, Espinoza and captain Aramando Fern ndez - also a DINA
agent - to the United States, though Fern ndez later collaborated
with US justice authorities under a witness protection programme.
Michael Townley, a US citizen, also sought witness protection. He
was a DINA agent, turned over to US authorities in 1978 by the
dictatorship, said to have manufactured the bomb that killed
Letelier and Moffitt.
The declassification of previously confidential documents
belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal
Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the State Department and other US
government agencies contributed to the re-opening of the Letelier
case in Washington.
Investigators also had access to documents provided by judge
Garz¢n, who since 1996 has been investigating crimes against
humanity committed by the former dictatorships in Chile and
The Spanish judge began by working on the charges against
Argentina's former dictators, but then expanded his work to
include Pinochet and his collaborators under Operation Condor,
which co-ordinated the repressive forces of several South American
dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.
Garz¢n convinced the British authorities to arrest Pinochet in
London Oct 16, 1998, and later got Spain to request the former
Chilean dictator's extradition. But the 84-year-old retired
general was released two weeks ago for humanitarian reasons due to
his allegedly failing health.
Bustos indicated that the US justice authorities requested the
testimonies in order to clarify whether or not the former
officials and agents of the dictatorship had previous knowledge of
the preparations to assassinate Letelier and Moffitt, or of the
crime's subsequent cover-up.
Through their interrogations, the authorities may be able to
establish the roles of some of the individuals petitioned, as well
as that of Pinochet, who holds political immunity in Chile due to
his seat as senator-for-life.
The former dictator, however, could be stripped of this privilege
if the Santiago Court of Appeals admits a request for Pinochet's
removal from the Senate - submitted by Chilean judge Juan Guzm n,
who is investigating 74 criminal charges presented against
Pinochet in Chile.
Soledad Alvear, current Foreign minister under the new Ricardo
Lagos government - which took office Saturday - and former Justice
minister under the previous Eduardo Frei administration, said
authorities would guarantee the independence of the Chilean
Judicial branch in responding to the US petition.
Joaqu”n Billard, head of the First Criminal Court of Santiago, is
now entrusted with processing the requests so that each of the
indivuals identified by US justice authorities prepares a
declaration to be made from Chile.
Among the 46 people the Washington DC court wishes to question,
four are no longer living: former air-force commander Gustavo
Leigh, former government minister and general Ra£l Bejares, former
general of the military police Rigoberto Gonz lez and former
senator Jaime Guzm n, who was assassinated in 1991 by leftist
Among those petitioned are the jailed Contreras and Espinoza, as
well as other chiefs at DINA and its successor organistion, the
National Centre of Information (CNI), former high army officials
and several of the former dictatorship's ministers, like Sergio
Rill¢n, Pinochet's principal adviser.
Also on the list is retired general Ra£l Iturriaga, currently
under arrest and awaiting extradition to Italy, where he has been
charged with defaulting on an 18-year prison sentence for the 1975
murders in Rome of former Chilean vice-president Bernardo Leighton
and his wife, Anita Fresno.
Among the Pinochet ministers listed is M¢nica Madariaga, former
minister of Justice and Education. She also faces arrest, under
Spanish judge Garz¢n's order, if she travels outside of Chile.
Earlier this month, Madariaga filed charges in Chilean court
against Cuba's president Fidel Castro for his supposed complicity
in the 1982 assassination of general Carol Urz£a in Santiago.
Human rights organisations interpreted her action as a response
by the Chilean political right to Pinochet's 503-day arrest in