Associated Press
Fri, Feb. 04, 2005

Chile Says U.S. Cooperating in '74 Probe

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A Chilean judge says U.S. authorities are providing extraordinary cooperation in his investigation of one of the most notorious killings linked to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship: the assassination in Argentina of a Chilean general who had opposed Pinochet's 1973 coup.

The Justice Department this week permitted Judge Alejandro Solis to interview two men linked to Pinochet's intelligence service: Michael Townley, an American, and Armando Fernandez Larios, a Chilean living in the United States.

Townley has admitted planting the car bomb that killed Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife, Sofia, in Buenos Aires on Sept. 30, 1974. Prats had been Chilean army commander until Pinochet was appointed in 1973, shortly before the coup.

Both Townley and Fernandez Larios have been convicted in the United States of participating in a similar car bombing that killed former Chilean Ambassador Orlando Letelier and his American aide Ronni Moffitt on Sept. 21, 1976. The two men are believed to be living under federal protection as a result of their cooperation with U.S. prosecutors and cannot be extradited.

In an interview late Thursday, Solis said he had asked the Justice Department in September 2003 to submit 30 questions to Townley and Fernandez Larios. The department responded 15 months later with an offer to allow Solis to conduct the interviews and expand the list of questions.

Solis said he had almost 100 questions when he interviewed Townley for 3 1/2 hours on Thursday morning and Fernandez Larios for 1 1/2 hours that afternoon at Justice Department headquarters.

He declined to discuss details, but, speaking in Spanish, said Townley and Fernandez Larios' responses were "wide-ranging and unrestricted."

Solis said he was surprised by the warm welcome he received from the Justice Department. "What has happened this week in Washington, with this invitations to participate in the questioning, is totally unprecedented," he said.

Justice Department officials declined to discuss any such cooperation.

The United States has long been linked to the Pinochet coup. Then-President Nixon opposed the elected government of socialist Salvador Allende and scholars have debated to what degree U.S. officials provided at least indirect support for the coup.

As secretary of state, Colin Powell referred to the coup as "not a part of American history that we're proud of," though the State Department has said it did not instigate the coup.

Solis said he has until July to finish his investigation and determine who will be indicted. The Chilean Supreme Court has determined that Pinochet can't be prosecuted because he is in poor health.
Associated Press writer Ken Guggenheim contributed to this report.