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The Independent, 9.8.99

Pinochet may face UK trial, says CPS

The former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet could still face charges in Britain even if Spain drops its request for extradition, the Crown Prosecution Service said yesterday.

Scotland Yard has the power to mount an investigation on a complaint levelled against the general by the human rights group, Amnesty International, over the disappearance of a Briton, William Beausire, in Chile after the military coup that overthrew the legally elected government of Salvador Allende.

The CPS will also have to consider separate official extradition requests from Switz-erland and France for 83-year-old General Pinochet, which are on hold while the Spanish case continues.

Diplomatic negotiations are proceeding between Chile and Spain over the issue of whether he should be taken to Madrid to face trial.

A spokeswoman for the CPS said yesterday: "A further police investigation over here is an option. As with any investigation, the police would have to look into the complaint and present us with a file. We would then have to decide whether there was sufficient evidence for a prosecution. At the moment this is hypothetical. We are still moving towards extradition proceedings in September.

"There are other countries who are interested in General Pinochet, so it would also depend on what action they wanted to take."

An investigation into the Beausire disappearance, or the French or Spanish extradition requests, would mean a fresh set of warrants having to be drawn up by the CPS. A human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Bindman, acting for Amnesty International, has written to the Home Office seeking an assurance that a prosecution in Britain would be considered if the Spanish extradition request is abandoned.

The prospect that General Pinochet could face prosecution in this country if Spain drops its charges against him sparked criticism from Conservative politicians. Ann Widdecombe, shadow Home Secretary, said: "Jack Straw has never raised this possibility. It does not seem to have formed part of the Government's considerations. It is just one more muddle in a massively mishandled incident."

Gerald Howarth, Conservative MP for Aldershot, who has consistently protested against General Pinochet's detention, said: "If this were to happen it would be an outrage. The British Government now seems to be ready to usurp the authority of the Chilean people.

"The idea that someone who played such a prominent role for the UK in the Falklands War and who has played such an amazing role in transforming his country into one of the most successful countries of the Second World should be treated in this fashion by the Labour Government would be an absolute outrage."

But Paul May, spokesman for the Chilean Committee for Justice, said: "Proceedings against this international criminal began in October 1998 as a judicial process. They must remain so without any political interference. Here in Britain, we are proud the rule of law has so far prevailed without shabby political deals. Repeated efforts by the Opposition to overturn the law of the land to allow a mass murderer to walk free are a disgrace."

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