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LATIN AMERICA | 31-01-2019 11:47

Chile jails six Pinochet agents for ex-president's murder

A court on Wednesday jailed six former agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's regime for involvement in the 1982 murder of ex-president Eduardo Frei Montalva.

Six people have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison in Chile for the 1982 death of former president Eduardo Frei Montalva, marking a historic ruling in the highest profile murder case from former dictator general Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.

Frei Montalva, president from 1964 to 1970, died of a sudden infection in January 1982 aged 71.

However, on Wednesday, Judge Alejandro Madrid ruled that Frei Montalva was poisoned to death with "toxic substances" that were gradually introduced into his body while he was hospitalised at a private clinic for hernia treatment. 

Madrid handed down the verdict after a 15-year investigation during which Frei's body was twice exhumed for forensic examination. It found the six defendants guilty of "homicide by poisoning after a surgical intervention," and sentenced them to between three and 10 years for carrying out, covering up and serving as accomplices in the crime. Montalva's driver, doctors and former agents of Pinochet.

The judge sentenced a doctor, Patricio Silva Garín, to 10 years in jail for administering the poison, causing Frei's death. Another doctor, Pedro Valdivia, was sentenced to five years as an accomplice.

Lusi Vecerra Arancibia, the ex-president's driver, and intelligence agent Raúl Lillo Gutiérrez were each handed seven-year sentences.

Two physicians specialising in palliative care, Helmar Rosengerg and Sergio González, got three years for covering up the crime. 

'Unprecedented moment'

Lawyers for Frei Montalva's family described the verdict as historic, as former Chilean head of states added their condemnation.

"After 16 years, judge Madrid determined that the death of president Frei Montalva was a murder," Chilean President Sebastian Piñera said on Twitter. "We condemn this murder with indignation."

"This is an unprecedented moment in the history of Chile, an assassination of this profile ... ordered by Pinochet," said former president Ricardo Lagos.

Frei Montalva was succeeded by Salvador Allende as president in 1970. When Frei Montalva died, he and his Christian Democratic Party was becoming an opposition force against Pinochet, who began his 17-year dictatorship by ousting Allende in a 1973 military coup. Pinochet left office when democracy was restored in 1990.

The court complaint was first filed by Frei Montalva's son, Eduardo Frei, who was also president of Chile from 1994-2000.

The death of Frei Montalva had been investigated for years by the courts, and his family insisted the former leader had been poisoned. His body was disinterred for a second time in 2016 to determine how the poison, low doses of mustard gas and thallium, had been administered.

According to an official report, 40,018 people were imprisoned, tortured or slain during the dictatorship. Chile's government estimates that of those, 3,095 were killed, including about 1,200 who were forcibly disappeared. Some 38,000 are believed to have been tortured.

Chilean authorities have said it was "highly probable that a third party" was responsible for the death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda in the chaos following Chile's 1973 coup. The official version was that he died of cancer. But the investigation to determine if he was murdered is still ongoing.

- TIMES/AFP/AP

 

 

 

 

More than 3,200 people were killed under the Pinochet regime, and some 38,000 people were tortured.

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