The Miami Herald
March 24, 2000
Affidavit links Pinochet to car bomb assassination

 Special to The Herald

 WASHINGTON -- A document bearing the signature of an imprisoned Chilean
 military officer appears for the first time to directly implicate Chile's former
 president, Gen. Augusto Pinochet, in the 1976 intelligence operation that resulted
 in the car bomb assassination in Washington of exile leader Orlando Letelier.

 The affidavit is a key piece of evidence in the hands of Justice Department
 investigators who arrived in Santiago, the Chilean capital, this week to question
 witnesses in the revived case, which is still considered the most serious act of
 international terrorism ever committed in the U.S. capital.

 A grand jury has been convened in Washington to investigate the incident, in
 which Ronni Moffitt, an American associate of Letelier, was also killed.

 The Justice Department investigators, including Assistant U.S. Attorney John
 Beasley and several FBI officials, are expected to question a number of
 witnesses, including imprisoned Col. Pedro Espinoza Bravo, who was once
 second in command of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DINA), Chile's
 secret police.


 Espinoza's signature and that of a notary appear on a typewritten 1978 affidavit
 that provides previously unknown details about Pinochet's alleged role in the
 Letelier case and efforts to cover up his involvement. So far its authenticity has
 not been questioned by FBI and former Justice Department officials who know its

 In a key sentence, Espinoza says: ``The Director of National Intelligence called
 me to his office and told me that by order of the president we must begin an
 investigation of Orlando Letelier, who is threatening the stability of the Chilean

 Espinoza and two other DINA officers were charged in the United States for
 carrying out the Sept. 21, 1976, car bombing that killed Letelier and Moffitt.
 Espinoza was never extradited to the United States to face charges, but he and
 the DINA chief, Gen. Manuel Contreras, were convicted in Chile in 1995 and are
 being held prisoner in a special military facility near Santiago.

 Pinochet was never charged and has consistently denied any role in the
 assassination or investigation of Letelier. Until now, none of the participants had
 directly linked Pinochet to the DINA operation.


 But the document, in addition to declaring that Pinochet ordered the investigation
 that resulted in the assassination, portrays a Chilean army general as distorting
 evidence in order to protect Pinochet.

 In the document, Espinoza says the general, Hector Orozco, forced him to sign
 an inaccurate statement about the case ``in order to clear his excellency the
 president of any dust or dirt.''

 Espinoza says in the document that he was insulted and humiliated by Orozco,
 who was conducting an internal military probe of the case. Espinoza says in the
 document that after ``an examination of conscience'' he decided to provide the
 information in the document ``under oath of honor as a soldier in the Chilean

 He says Orozco interrogated him and asked him to admit his involvement in the
 Letelier murder, but then prevented Espinoza from including in his statement that
 the Letelier mission was initiated ``by order of the president.''

 E. Lawrence Barcella, a former assistant U.S. attorney who once handled the
 Letelier investigation, said the document corroborates previous testimony in the
 case, principally that of an American who worked for DINA, Michael Vernon
 Townley, who confessed to building and planting the car bomb that killed Letelier.


 ``We never had anybody back then that gave us a direct link to Pinochet,''
 Barcella said. ``Now we do.''

 A Chilean court accepted a U.S. request to subpoena 42 Chilean officials and
 submit them to detailed questions prepared by U.S. investigators in a process
 known as ``letters rogatory.'' Espinoza, Contreras, Orozco and another officer,
 Gen. Nilo Floody, to whom Espinoza addressed his affidavit, are all on the list.

 The Espinoza document is dated April 27, 1978, after the initial U.S. investigation
 of the Letelier murder. Several weeks before, Chile had expelled Townley, whom
 the investigators had identified as the hitman, to the United States, where he was
 known to be cooperating.

 In Chile, Orozco was assigned the task of conducting an internal investigation,
 which U.S. investigators assumed was ordered by Pinochet, who was
 commander of the Chilean army as well as president.

 Espinoza said Orozco threatened that if he did not admit his guilt in Chile in a
 way acceptable to Orozco, he would be ``put on a plane to the United States
 within 24 hours'' and his ``wife and children will have a sad future, being as they
 will be, abandoned in Chile, with no guarantees of safety.''

                     Copyright 2000 Miami Herald