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WORLD | 03-09-2020 17:06

Ex-Spanish minister to testify over Franco-era deaths before Argentine judge

Rodolfo Martín Villa, 85, who served as Spain's interior minister in the late 1970s, will testify from the Argentine Embassy in Madrid, answering questions from Buenos Aires over alleged role in 12 violent deaths dating back to end of Franco dictatorship.

A former Spanish cabinet minister will answer questions by video link Thursday from an Argentine judge investigating his alleged role in 12 violent deaths carried out during Spain's turbulent transition to democracy in the 1970s following the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

Rodolfo Martín Villa, 85, who served as Spain's interior minister in the late 1970s, will testify from the Argentine Embassy in Madrid, answering questions by investigating magistrate María Romilda Servini de Cubría in Buenos Aires.

Servini opened her probe in 2010 into allegations of human rights violations and genocide in Spain during the Franco regime and the turbulent years that followed after accepting a lawsuit from associations of family members of victims of the dictatorship.

She has based her probe on the principle of universal jurisdiction  – a legal doctrine that allows judges to try serious rights abuses committed in other countries.

Martín Villa, who was governor of Barcelona during the dying years of the Franco regime, will be questioned over a police raid on protesting workers sheltering in a church in the northern city of Vitoria which left five people dead in 1976 when he was minister of trade union relations.

He also faces questioning over the deaths of seven other people at the hands of state security forces when he was interior minister between 1976 and 1979.

Martín Villa has said he is willing to cooperate with the probe to prove his innocence. To back his case he has submitted letters of support from veteran politicians and union leaders, including Spain's last four prime ministers.

All of them "assure that he always acted with a total commitment to defend the rule of law and reform state security forces," Martín Villa's defence team said in a statement sent to AFP.

After hearing his testimony, the Argentine judge will decide whether to charge him and request his extradition.

"It is the first time that a politician who took action during the final period of the phase of the dictatorship and during the transition period has had to explain himself before a judge for very serious events," Jacinto Lara, the lawyer for the CEAQUA platform of associations which filed the lawsuit against Martín Villa in Argentina, told AFP.

Previous attempts to bring Franco-era officials to justice in Spain have been blocked by an amnesty agreement signed by Spanish leaders following Franco's death in 1975.

The agreement was seen as essential to avoid a spiral of score-settling as they tried to unite the country and steer it to democracy.

Spanish authorities still invoke the amnesty law in refusing to investigate alleged atrocities during the Franco era, despite demands by the United Nations that it be scrapped.

– AFP

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