May 11th, 2010
10:22 AM ET

Spanish judge asks for leave amid investigation

A Spanish judge who brought cases against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden but is now under criminal investigation has asked for a leave of absence, a national court spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Spain's Supreme Court is investigating Judge Baltasar Garzon for alleged abuse of power in his inquiry of human rights infractions during the rule of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. The court also is investigating Garzon amid allegations of wiretapping in a corruption scandal that has affected leaders of the main opposition conservative Popular Party.

The court also is looking into a course that Garzon organized at New York University; the course's sponsor was under investigation at Garzon's court.

Garzon has asked for a seven-month assignment as external adviser to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Netherlands, according to the national court spokeswoman, who asked not to be named in line with policy.

Garzon, 54, was charged with abuse of judicial power in a ruling issued in April by Spain's Supreme Court.

A 14-page order by the court's investigating magistrate Luciano Varela allows Garzon to appeal the call for a trial but also says it is "probable" that Garzon committed judicial abuse, which Varela said is sufficient legal ground to permit a trial.

Garzon proclaimed his innocence in a brief statement to reporters this year.

No date was set for the potential trial.

Garzon could be removed from the bench if found guilty.

He became internationally well-known in October 1998, when Pinochet was arrested in London, England, under his orders.

Garzon was testing in Spain a legal concept called universal jurisdiction, which allows some serious crimes to be tried anywhere, regardless of where the alleged offenses occurred.

Under Pinochet's dictatorship, from 1974 to 1990, up to 30,000 people vanished or were killed for their political beliefs. Many were students, labor leaders, intellectuals and others considered to be leftist insurgents.

The former dictator was held in England for 18 months while officials considered Spain's extradition request. British authorities ultimately decided that Pinochet was too frail to stand trial, and he was allowed to go home to Chile.

A Chilean judge ruled in 2004 that Pinochet was healthy enough to stand trial on 300 charges and placed him under house arrest. Pinochet died in a Chilean military hospital in December 2006 at the age of 91.

Garzon also gained widespread attention in 2003, when he compiled a 692-page indictment that called for the arrest of bin Laden and 34 other men on charges that they belonged to a terrorist group. Six other defendants were added later.

Twenty-four suspects were tried in Madrid in 2005; 18 were found guilty of belonging to an al Qaeda cell and sentenced to prison.

In 2008, Garzon began investigating human rights abuses under Franco, who ruled Spain for more than 35 years after winning the 1936-39 civil war. Historians say there were thousands of forced disappearances.

But a conservative group, Manos Limpias (Clean Hands), soon lodged a complaint against Garzon, contending that the Spanish Parliament had granted a blanket amnesty to all involved in such crimes in 1977, two years after Franco's death.

The law came during Spain's transition to democracy, when political leaders wanted the country to move forward without reopening old wounds.

In 2007, a year before Garzon's investigation began, the Spanish Parliament, led by the current Socialist government, passed a law condemning Franco's dictatorship and calling on town halls to fund initiatives to unearth mass graves.

The 2007 law also sought to honor Roman Catholic clergy and others executed by the losing side in the war, the forces loyal to the leftist Republican government.

In April's Supreme Court ruling, magistrate Varela wrote that Garzon, in his investigation, "tried to take control of locating and exhuming" the mass graves.

Garzon issued "multiple rulings which for multiple reasons are against judicial reasoning, and did so knowingly, eventually constituting an abuse of power," Varela wrote.

Garzon, a judge at the National Court, spent his early years investigating the Basque separatist group ETA - blamed for more than 800 killings in its fight for Basque independence - and also major drug traffickers.

He later tackled Islamic terrorist cells in Spain and human rights abuses under former military regimes in Chile and Argentina.

Most recently, he investigated a large case of alleged corruption and influence peddling that implicates some senior figures of the conservative Popular Party.

- CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. alvaro

    Al Goodman should get his sources checked, Garzon is being investigated for illegaly spying on political leaders, he has been abusing his power since he became the first "star" judge of Spain after discovering and conmdemming the socialist government of 1995 of a series of crimes (corruption being the lightest, hiring hitmen to kill terrorist being the cherry of the pie). The fact that he illegaly taped and wired the opposition is merely a coincidence, or as others regard it, a favor to the current socialist government, that would rather speak of this case than of the terrible economic management it does in one of the most important economies in Europe.
    What kind of journalism is taking over CNN?

    May 11, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. American Expat

    Yes, and for the last few years his main activity has been to fabricate cases against the opposition party (the PP) at the behest of the do nothing PM Mr. Zapatero. As if the PSOE did not have enough cases of their own. Every time the PSOE has been in power, the members enter the government as poor as church mice, yet are rich beyond dreams when they leave. Example, Felipe Gonzales, who ran the most corrupt government since democracy was instated during the 1970s. Jose Bono, another member of the current government, having garnered several million euros in the last couple of years. Garzon was also briefly a member of the Socialist government during the period 1994/5, clearly making him a partison hack. The government does not need judges that "invent" their own laws and then proceed to implement them. He should have been kicked out of the judgeship years ago!

    May 12, 2010 at 4:32 am | Report abuse |
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