Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina asks Spain to arrest 20 Franco-era officials

Argentine federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria May 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Argentine federal judge Maria Servini de Cubria invoked "universal jurisdiction" for serious rights abuses.

An Argentine judge has asked Spain to arrest and extradite 20 former officials accused of abuses during the military rule of General Franco.

They cannot be tried in Spain because of an amnesty law but the officials could be prosecuted in Argentina.

The families of alleged victims asked Argentina for help because it has an extradition treaty with Spain.

In April, Spain's high court refused to extradite to Argentina a former policeman accused of torture.

Judge Maria Servini de Cubria issued the arrest and extradition warrants for two former ministers of General Franco's regime, and 18 other officials, invoking "universal jurisdiction" - a legal doctrine that authorises judges to try serious rights abused committed in other countries.

Using the doctrine, Spain briefly detained Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998.

The two most prominent suspects in Judge Servini's investigation are Rodolfo Martin Villa, 79, who was Franco's interior minister, and Jose Uteri Molina, 86, who was housing minister.

After Franco's death in 1975, the amnesty agreement was seen as essential to avoid score-settling as the country moved towards democracy.

The United Nations has asked Spain to revoke the amnesty law but the Spanish authorities have so far refused.

Last year, Judge Servini issued warrants for a Spanish policemen, Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, accused of torture, but the Spanish High Court refused arguing that the statute of limitations had run out on the accusations against him.

Mr Pacheco has denied torturing prisoners.

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