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The Miami Herald, 24.3.00

Affidavit links Pinochet to car bomb assassination. BY JOHN DINGES, Special to The Herald

WASHINGTON -- A document bearing the signature of an imprisoned Chilean military officer appears for the first time to directly implicate Chile's former president, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in the 1976 intelligence operation that resulted in the car bomb assassination in Washington of exile leader Orlando Letelier.

The affidavit is a key piece of evidence in the hands of Justice Department investigators who arrived in Santiago, the Chilean capital, this week to question witnesses in the revived case, which is still considered the most serious act of international terrorism ever committed in the U.S. capital.

A grand jury has been convened in Washington to investigate the incident, in which Ronni Moffitt, an American associate of Letelier, was also killed.

The Justice Department investigators, including Assistant U.S. Attorney John Beasley and several FBI officials, are expected to question a number of witnesses, including imprisoned Col. Pedro Espinoza Bravo, who was once second in command of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), Chile's secret police.

SIGNED AND DATED

Espinoza's signature and that of a notary appear on a typewritten 1978 affidavit that provides previously unknown details about Pinochet's alleged role in the Letelier case and efforts to cover up his involvement. So far its authenticity has not been questioned by FBI and former Justice Department officials who know its content.

In a key sentence, Espinoza says: ``The Director of National Intelligence called me to his office and told me that by order of the president we must begin an investigation of Orlando Letelier, who is threatening the stability of the Chilean Government.''

Espinoza and two other DINA officers were charged in the United States for carrying out the Sept. 21, 1976, car bombing that killed Letelier and Moffitt. Espinoza was never extradited to the United States to face charges, but he and the DINA chief, Gen. Manuel Contreras, were convicted in Chile in 1995 and are being held prisoner in a special military facility near Santiago.

Pinochet was never charged and has consistently denied any role in the assassination or investigation of Letelier. Until now, none of the participants had directly linked Pinochet to the DINA operation.

PROTECTING PINOCHET

But the document, in addition to declaring that Pinochet ordered the investigation that resulted in the assassination, portrays a Chilean army general as distorting evidence in order to protect Pinochet.

In the document, Espinoza says the general, Hector Orozco, forced him to sign an inaccurate statement about the case ``in order to clear his excellency the president of any dust or dirt.''

Espinoza says in the document that he was insulted and humiliated by Orozco, who was conducting an internal military probe of the case. Espinoza says in the document that after ``an examination of conscience'' he decided to provide the information in the document ``under oath of honor as a soldier in the Chilean army.''

He says Orozco interrogated him and asked him to admit his involvement in the Letelier murder, but then prevented Espinoza from including in his statement that the Letelier mission was initiated ``by order of the president.''

E. Lawrence Barcella, a former assistant U.S. attorney who once handled the Letelier investigation, said the document corroborates previous testimony in the case, principally that of an American who worked for DINA, Michael Vernon Townley, who confessed to building and planting the car bomb that killed Letelier.

`DIRECT LINK'

``We never had anybody back then that gave us a direct link to Pinochet,'' Barcella said. ``Now we do.''

A Chilean court accepted a U.S. request to subpoena 42 Chilean officials and submit them to detailed questions prepared by U.S. investigators in a process known as ``letters rogatory.'' Espinoza, Contreras, Orozco and another officer, Gen. Nilo Floody, to whom Espinoza addressed his affidavit, are all on the list.

The Espinoza document is dated April 27, 1978, after the initial U.S. investigation of the Letelier murder. Several weeks before, Chile had expelled Townley, whom the investigators had identified as the hitman, to the United States, where he was known to be cooperating.

In Chile, Orozco was assigned the task of conducting an internal investigation, which U.S. investigators assumed was ordered by Pinochet, who was commander of the Chilean army as well as president.

Espinoza said Orozco threatened that if he did not admit his guilt in Chile in a way acceptable to Orozco, he would be ``put on a plane to the United States within 24 hours'' and his ``wife and children will have a sad future, being as they will be, abandoned in Chile, with no guarantees of safety.''

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