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Spanish court acquits disgraced judge Baltasar Garzon for probe into right-wing atrocities
MADRID (AP) ' An embattled superstar judge known for taking on high-profile international human rights cases was acquitted Monday on charges of overstepping his jurisdiction by launching a probe into right-wing atrocities during and after the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.
But the ruling was bittersweet consolation for Baltasar Garzon, 56, whose once high-flying career effectively ended last month when he was barred from the bench for 11 years after he was found guilty of similar charges in a separate domestic corruption probe. Garzon has said he may appeal that case.
A guilty verdict in the civil war case would have led to a similar sentence, although possibly longer.
A Supreme Court spokeswoman said Garzon was absolved in the Civil War case by judges in a 6-1 vote. She spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with court policy. The actual verdict was not immediately released.
The case has raised a storm in Spain, where human rights groups and supporters claim Garzon ' best known for indicting former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998 ' had been targeted by right-wing political and judicial enemies. Crowds had gathered to express their support of Garzon during the trial and thousands of people rallied in Madrid in a protest following his disbarring.
Monday's ruling came less than a week after the judge was formally expelled as a magistrate from the National Court where he had worked for decades.
Garzon had a third case against him shelved earlier this month, though the decision is pending on appeal. It involves money he was suspected of improperly soliciting from banks to finance seminars he oversaw in New York while on sabbatical in 2005 and 2006.
Garzon has long been an activist judge, willing to aggressively interpret Spanish laws allowing for prosecution of crimes against humanity across borders. He tried to put Pinochet on trial in Madrid for such crimes, and indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. He also carried out dozens of probes against corruption, drug traffickers and the armed Basque group ETA in Spain.
But while he was a hero for some, Garzon made many enemies at home, especially among judicial colleagues ' who disliked his star status and alleged corner-cutting in legal procedures ' and conservative politicians who claimed he was more interested in fame than justice.
In the civil war case, Garzon was accused of ordering a probe in 2008 into the atrocities against civilians despite an amnesty law passed two years after the 1975 death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco, as Spain moved to restore democracy and rebuild after nearly 40 years of rule under Franco.
The charges stemmed from a complaint filed by two small right-wing groups.
Garzon had actually taken himself off the probe for jurisdictional reasons well before he was ever indicted.
In the corruption case, Garzon was found by the court to have acted arbitrarily in ordering jailhouse wiretaps of detainees talking to their lawyers, saying his actions "these days are only found in totalitarian regimes."
The detainees were accused of paying off politicians of the now-ruling conservative Popular Party to obtain lucrative government contracts in the Madrid and Valencia regions.
After Garzon was suspended in 2010 after first being indicted, he took a six-month job in The Hague at the International Criminal Court as an adviser to its chief prosecutor. He later accepted a position as a human rights adviser to the government of Colombia, which is fighting leftist rebels and powerful drug lords.