Chile upholds former spy chief’s conviction in Argentina bombing that killed Pinochet critics

By Federico Quilodran, AP
Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chile’s top court upholds Prats bombing verdicts

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile’s Supreme Court upheld murder convictions Thursday for the dictatorship’s former secret police chief and his top agents in the 1974 assassination of Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife.

But the court also reduced Manuel Contreras’ life sentence to just 20 years in prison, reflecting a compromise between the right and left over how to punish “dirty war” crimes that occurred many years ago and for which statutes of limitations would have run out if they were prosecuted as simple murders.

The court also found eight other top officials of Chile’s feared secret police guilty of plotting the bombing, which killed Prats and his wife, Sofia Cuthbert, in Argentina’s capital a year after Gen. Augusto Pinochet seized power in a coup.

Contreras, who made leftists tremble during Pinochet’s long dictatorship, is now 81 and faces more than 100 years in prison on other convictions.

Prats — who was replaced by Pinochet as army commander days before the 1973 coup — was killed with his wife by a bomb that was placed under their car in Buenos Aires in 1974. The agent found to have placed the bomb — Michael Townley — has since lived as a protected witness in the United States.

The Prats’ three daughters expressed satisfaction with the ruling, despite the reduced sentences, since the courts were able to prove the conspiracy led to their parents’ murders.

“We are satisfied that they were convicted,” said Sofia Prats.

The Chilean army published a strong statement condemning the murder after an official report described the secret police plot.

“We repudiate everyone who participated in the murder, especially those who committed it. … They violated the moral principles of this institution,” the statement said.

Contreras has been jailed since October 1995, when he received seven years for the 1976 car bombing that killed former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier and his assistant Ronni Moffit in Washington, D.C.

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