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France court convicts 13 Chilean officials for Pinochet-era disappearances

A French court on Friday convicted 13 former Chilean officials over the disappearance of four French citizens during the regime of Augusto Pinochet [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The defendants, primarily high-ranking military officers, were tried in absentia, and one defendant was acquitted. Two of the defendants were sentenced to life in prison [AP report]: Juan Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, Pinochet's chief of secret police, and Octavio Espinoza Bravo, an army colonel. The remaining defendants were sentenced to 15, 20, 25 and 30 years in prison. While the defendants were not present in court, it is hoped that the trial will offer some justice to the victims' families.

Pinochet himself was implicated in the disappearances, but he died in 2006 without ever facing trial. In July, the Chilean Supreme Court released a report detailing the secret fortune of Pinochet, estimating it at over $20 million. This report joins another on Pinochet's hidden assets released last September [JURIST report]. That report concluded that Pinochet amassed USD $25,978,602 in accounts held outside of Chile, of which $20,199,753 is suspected to have been embezzled from official funds. The September report also concluded that the funds were accumulated [Los Tiempos report, in Spanish] over the period from 1973 to 2004, when a US Senate sub-committee investigation first uncovered the accounts [JURIST report]. Victim advocates say the report supports allegations that Pinochet was the recipient of bribes and had other unlawful sources of income.

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