6 November 1998: Spain issues formal request to extradite Pinochet

Pinochet in 1998.
Pinochet in 1998. / AP
  • The former Chilean head of state was charged by different countries with crimes against humanity but died before being convicted

It was one of the most convoluted and long-drawn-out legal cases ever and in the end it came to nothing. However it was of transcendental importance in international law. As far as Spain, and Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, were concerned, 6 November 1998 was a significant date because the Spanish government authorised the official request for General Augusto Pinochet of Chile to be extradited from the UK to Spain.

In 1973 Pinochet had led a coup which deposed the socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende. During his 17-year regime he was responsible for numerous human rights violations, especially against political opponents, and was accused of embezzling government funds and illegal drug and arms trading. Reports stated that at least 2,279 people were conclusively murdered and at least 30,000 people were tortured by the Chilean government for political reasons during that time.

Later, when the legal battles were in full swing, his lawyers argued that as a former head of state he was entitled to immunity, and also under an amnesty law passed by the military junta in 1978. They also claimed that he was too ill to stand trial.

On 17 October 1998, Pinochet was arrested at a clinic in the UK, where he had undergone back surgery, under an international arrest warrant issued by Baltasar Garzón, and placed under house arrest. He was accused of 94 counts of torture of Spanish citizens, the 1975 assassination of Spanish diplomat Carmelo Soria, and one count of conspiracy to commit torture. The Chilean government opposed his extradition to Spain. The British House of Lords decided that crimes such as these did not grant a former head of state immunity, but he could only be prosecuted for crimes committed after 1988. Although this wiped out many of the charges, it meant he could be extradited to Spain. That never happened. In 2000, after inspecting medical reports, Home Secretary Jack Straw decided he should be released and could return to Chile. Pinochet died in 2006, with over 300 criminal charges still standing against him.