IT'S ALL LIES, SAYS THE OLD DICTATOR; Defiant in His Frailty, Pinochet Speaks Out

Article excerpt

Byline: BILL MOULAND

THEY were just two short sentences, but in their own way they summed up how General Pinochet felt about himself and about Britain.

'I am Augusto Pinochet Ugarte,' he told London's chief stipendiary magistrate Graham Parkinson in his first public utterance since being arrested in October for extradition to Spain.

He had only been asked for his name, but Pinochet, hunched in a black-framed wheelchair at the back of the most secure law court in the land, wanted people to know the power once invested in him.

'I was Commander in Chief of the Army,' he went on, his voice husky and broken with age. 'The Captain General of Chile, President of the Republic and, actually at the moment, a Senator of the Republic.' Then the 83-year-old former dictator asked permission to add something. 'With respect to your honour,' he grated through an interpreter, 'I don't recognise the jurisdiction of any other court except that of my country to try me against all the lies of Spain. That's all I wanted to say.' Mr Parkinson was politeness itself. 'Would you say,' he told the interpreter, 'that I hear what he says. My duty is to conduct these proceedings in accordance with the Extradition Act passed in England and I must do so. I am sure he understands that.' The general's lawyer, Clive Nicholls QC, said: 'The jurisdiction of this court is recognised. No disrespect to the court is intended.' Pinochet, hands clasped over the top of a walking stick, thinning grey hair plastered back over his head, was expressionless beneath the courtroom clock.

In the middle of the room a single microphone hung from the ceiling like a noose.

It had taken just over an hour to bring him in the back of a green Ford Galaxy people carrier from the executive home in Surrey where he is under house arrest, to Belmarsh magistrates court on the opposite side of the metropolitan sprawl for the formal opening of the extradition process.

The crowds of supporters and opponents who had gathered to catch a glimpse were disappointed.

There was no convoy with police outriders, no mad dash for the sanctuary of the court.

Instead Pinochet was secreted in through a side door attended by a doctor, and watched over by two British paramedics.

Suddenly the word went out: 'He's already inside.' Police watched nervously as the crowd received the news and tempers began to fray. For a moment there was unity in the crowd - everyone felt duped.

Inside, only 37 journalists, mostly from overseas, and eight people each from the two camps outside had been admitted.

Every seat was taken, even in the dock, which was filled with pro-Pinochet politicians and his country's military attaches.

The old dictator was dressed in a faded brown pinstripe suit with a cream shirt and bright yellow tie. His aides fussed around him.

The interpreter bent low to Pinochet's right ear, whispering the translation as Mr Parkinson went through the accusations against him: 'Torture, conspiracy to torture, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, hostage taking and conspiracy to take hostages. …