Thu, Jan 19, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Spanish judge who took on Pinochet now on trial himself

ACCUSED:Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, faces charges of abuse of power and could lose his job

The Guardian, MADRID

Spain’s most famous judge, the charismatic and controversial investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon, sat in the dock at the country’s Supreme Court on Tuesday to face charges that may bring his career to an abrupt and dramatic end.

Garzon, who ordered the arrest in London of Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet, entered the court wearing his judge’s gown for what may be one of the last times, as he faces being struck off as a magistrate for up to 17 years.

He said he was in good spirits, though he has privately said he believes his fellow judges are determined to find him guilty in this case or one of the two others he must face in the coming weeks and months.

“I’m fine,” he said before entering a courtroom decorated with a massive glass chandelier and large crucifix.

A panel of seven judges was set to hear evidence over two or three days.

Garzon, in the first of three separate cases against him at Madrid’s Supreme Court, is accused of breaking rules by approving police taps on conversations between defense lawyers and their clients in a corruption investigation focusing on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party.

Crowds of protesters gathered outside the court to support the judge, whose supporters claim is the subject of a campaign of persecution triggered by his decision to investigate human rights crimes committed under the dictator General Francisco Franco.

A second, even more controversial, trial is to start next week. It will see Garzon accused of twisting the law in order to open a formal investigation into the death or disappearance of 110,000 people allegedly killed under Franco’s regime.

Garzon has pledged to fight, but privately believes he will be found guilty because he has made too many enemies. He was suspended because of the Franco case in May 2010, but denies all the allegations.

His defense is expected to argue that, since another judge backed Garzon’s move to tape the defense lawyers’ conversations, he cannot be accused of deliberately dictating measures generally known to be against the law.

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