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Judge seeks to indict Pinochet in chemist's death

Written by: Staff

SANTIAGO, Chile, May 11 (Reuters) A Chilean judge has petitioned an appellate court to strip ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution on charges he ordered the 1992 assassination of chemist Eugenio Berrios in Uruguay.

''The head of the band that gave the criminal order to kidnap and kill Berrios was Pinochet. There is a sequence of events here,'' said Alvaro Varela, an attorney involved in the prosecution, which in Chile is led by a judge yesterday.

Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973-1990, has been charged in several human-rights cases, though he has never been convicted or acquitted because some cases are ongoing and others have been thrown out due to his poor health.

Each time a judge wants to bring a new indictment, the courts must decide whether he should lose his immunity from prosecution, a privilege of former heads of state.

According to Chilean investigators, three Uruguayan military officials detained Berrios, an ex-agent of Pinochet's DINA secret police, for several weeks in 1992, and then turned him over to Chilean agents to be killed.

Pinochet was commander in chief of the army at the time.

The Uruguayan military officials involved in the case were extradited in mid-April to Chile to face charges in the crime.

Judge Alejandro Madrid, who is investigating the case, alleges the chemist sought refuge in Uruguay to escape prosecution in Chile, where he was accused of participating in the 1976 assassination of former Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier in Washington, D.C.

Berrios was also called on to testify in a case related to the production of the deadly nerve agent sarin gas, to be used for assassinations in the Pinochet era.

''The petition (to strip immunity) alleges a level of participation of General Pinochet in the presumed crimes,'' Madrid said. ''We're not talking about his responsibility as commander in chief at that time. We're talking about direct proof.'' During the dictatorship over 3,000 people died in political violence and tens of thousands were detained and tortured by government agencies under the direction of the DINA.

Pinochet, 90, is no longer relevant in Chilean politics, but remains in the public eye because of all the court cases against him. His defense lawyers have argued he is unfit to stand trial for health reasons.


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