SANTIAGO — A Chilean judge yesterday sentenced seven retired members of the country’s military over their responsibility for the murders of eight civilians, and the disappearance of three others, who were opposed to the dictatorship of general Augusto Pinochet. The slayings occurred in a detention centre in Pisagua, in the north of the country, in 1973.
Judge Mario Carroza, who is in charge of human rights violations cases in the Court of Appeals of Santiago, sentenced retired Army colonel Sergio Benavides and former Carabinero major Manuel Vega to life imprisonment as the authors of the disappearances and killings.
Four other former members of the military were sentenced to 15 years and one day each in prison over their involvement in the incidents, while a seventh was sentenced to 10 years and one day.
According to Carroza’s investigation, the crimes occurred in September and October of 1973, shortly following Pinochet’s coup, in a prison camp in Pisagua, in the northern region of Tarapacá.
The victims were left-wing supporters of the ousted government of Salvador Allende, and were arrested after the coup and taken to Pisagua camp.
There they were beaten and forced to sign blank documents subsequently used in mock military tribunals to condemn the prisoners to death and execute them, according to the judge’s inquest.
The ruling states that on September 19, 1973, Juan Calderón, Luis Alberto Lizardi, Marcelo Guzmán, Juan Jiménez, Jesús Cañas and Michel Nash were taken from their cells and executed near the camp under the pretext that they had tried to escape.
The bodies were wrapped in burlap and then buried in a grave in the Atacama desert. In 1990 three of the bodies were found, the others are still missing.
Then on 11 October 1973, Julio Cabezas, Juan Valencia, Mario Morris, José Córdova and José Lizardi were also taken from their cells in the Pisagua prison camp and executed in a place close to the camp’s cemetery.
The judge’s ruling order the Chilean state to pay a total of 510 million pesos (US$780,000) compensation to families of the victims for moral damages.
In another case yesterday, the State Defence Council (CDE) sent a request to the court investigating the so-called “Riggs Case” — the legal proceedings against Pinochet and others on charges of embezzlement of public funds following the discovery of secret bank accounts held in the former US bank Riggs — asking that it sieze 41 properties owned by Mothers’ Centres Foundation of Chile (Cema Chile), headed by Pinochet’s widow, Lucía Hiriart, over alleged mismanagement of the organization’s funds.
The request was issued after no proof could be found that money received from the sale of another 36 properties, leased to the fundation by the state, had been reinvested back into the foundation or into any other charitable activities.
The CDE wants to clarify the role that Hiriart had in the sale of the properties because “there is clear suspicion that the monies have been derived for particular purposes,” according to a detailed document filed with the court.
The report also refers to the “possible existence of crimes such as misappropriation of public funds, tax fraud and larceny of public lands, and embezzlement.”
According to the CDE’s ruling, the funds obtained by Cema Chile following the sale of the 36 properties are estimated to have been worth around US$18 million and during that period Hiriart had broad powers over the management of the entity’s funds.
The foundation is currently under investigation over the origin and purpose of 290 properties that the non-profit foundation owns, of which 135 were gifted to Cema Chile by the Ministry of National Assets during the 1973-1990 dictatorship, jointly valued in its own portfolio at over US$121 million.
The Santiago Times with agencies