Spain's embattled judge to face trial over wiretaps

11th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Crusading Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, already awaiting trial over a probe into Franco-era crimes, will also face prosecution for ordering illegal wiretaps in a corruption case, judicial authorities announced Monday.

Supreme Court Judge Jorge Barreiro ordered Garzon to go on trial for "maladministration" and "use of wiretaps in violation of constititional guarantees," according to a copy of the ruling.

Three suspects in a corruption probe that has shaken Spain's main opposition Popular Party for the past two years have accused Garzon of illegally ordering telephone wiretaps with their lawyers.

The judge, best known for his attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from Britain for human rights abuses in 1998, was placed under judicial investigation last October over the affair.

The case is one of three opened by the Supreme Court involving Garzon.

He is also facing trial for abuse of power for launching an investigation into the disappearance of tens of thousands of people during Spain's 1936-39 civil war and General Francisco Franco's subsequent right-wing dictatorship.

That case followed a complaint by far-right groups who claim the probe violated an amnesty law passed in 1977, two years after Franco's death, for crimes committed under the general's rule.

The judge had argued that the Franco-era disappearances constituted crimes against humanity and were therefore not covered by the amnesty.

If convicted he would not go to prison but could be suspended for up to 20 years, effectively ending his domestic career.

Garzon was suspended from his post in May last year pending the trial, which has yet to start. He later accepted a temporary post at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Last month, he appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg over the case.

The third case involves suspected bribery over payments he allegedly received for seminars in New York.

Garzon, 55, has drawn support from leading Spanish actors and writers as well as international jurists.

The judge also indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 over the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States and looked into the deaths of Spaniards in Argentina during the military regime of 1976-83, under the principle of "universal jurisdiction."

Universal jurisdiction holds that heinous crimes like torture or terrorism can be tried in Spain even if they had no link to the country.

© 2011 AFP

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