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Top judge to face trial for probe of Franco-era atrocities

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-04-07

Top Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon will stand trial for alleged abuse of power for launching a probe into atrocities committed during the country's civil war and subsequent dictatorship, a court source said Wednesday.

AFP - Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon was Wednesday facing trial for abuse of power for violating an amnesty by launching a probe into atrocities carried out during Spain's civil war and subsequent dictatorship.

Supreme Court investigating magistrate Luciano Varela has decided to press ahead with a case brought against the judge, known round the world for his campaigns against former Latin American dictators, by several far-right groups, a judicial source told AFP.

Among the groups which filed the complaint against Garzon was the Falange, the party that provided the ideological basis for General Francisco Franco's rule from 1939-1975.

Varela had already ruled in February that Garzon "consciously ignored" an amnesty decreed by parliament in 1977 by launching a probe into the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during Spain's 1936-39 civil war and Franco's dictatorship.

But Garzon, 54, appealed the ruling, denying that he had abused his power. His lawyer Gonzalo Martinez-Fresneda told the online edition of daily newspaper El Pais that he would also appeal Varela's latest ruling.

The Supreme Court has up until now always rejected appeals at this stage of an inquiry, the newspaper added.

Varela's decision will likely mean that Garzon, a polarizing figure, will be temporarily suspended as a judge on Spain's High Court, which is responsible for cases concerning crimes against humanity, organised crime and terrorism.

Garzon declared himself to have jurisdiction to investigate Spain's civil war atrocities in 2008 and he ordered churches and government ministries to provide him with any information which they had on people who went missing during the conflict and the Franco era.

He transferred the case to provincial courts several months later after state prosecutors questioned his jurisdiction over crimes committed by people who had already died and whose crimes were covered by the amnesty passed in 1977, two years after Franco's death.

More than 200 human rights groups and jurists from around the world have signed a letter in support of Garzon that was sent to Spanish judicial authorities.

Garzon is seen as a hero by leftists and international human rights groups but is accused by some Spanish conservatives of harbouring grudges and of constantly seeking the media limelight with his pursuit of high profile cases.

He once stated that his goal was to change the world, one court sentence at a time.

Garzon made world headlines in October 1998 when he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet in London, under the principle of "universal jurisdiction" which holds that heinous crimes like torture or terrorism can be tried in Spain even if they had no link to the country.

He also indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and looked into the deaths of Spaniards in Argentina during the military regime of 1976-83.

He is the target of two other investigations: one into payments he received for speaking at conferences in the United States sponsored by Spanish bank Santander and another into his alleged bias in a probe which he launched into a corruption scandal rocking the opposition Popular Party.

Date created : 2010-04-07