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Spanish Judge Indicted for Inquiry Into Franco-Era Abuses

by Raphael Minder

MADRID - Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who attained international fame for pursuing leaders like Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, was himself indicted Wednesday on charges of abusing his powers to investigate Spanish Civil War atrocities.

The charges against Mr. Garzón mark an extraordinary reversal for a prosecutor who has also spearheaded Spain's fight against political corruption and terrorism perpetrated by ETA, the militant Basque separatist group.

Mr. Garzón was indicted Wednesday by a fellow judge, Luciano Varela, on charges of overreaching his authority in October 2008, when he launched a politically sensitive investigation into tens of thousands of deaths and disappearances during Spain's Civil War and the ensuing dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The controversy over his jurisdiction forced Mr. Garzón to abandon the investigation within a month, and instead hand over to local authorities the task of exhuming unidentified bodies from mass graves.

But legal action was still taken against him by a fringe far-right political group, Manos Limpias, or Clean Hands. It accuses Mr. Garzón of knowingly exceeding his legal purview, in particular by contravening a 1977 general amnesty that covered crimes perpetrated during the civil war.

Mr. Garzón has denied any wrongdoing and is expected to appeal. If found guilty, however, he could be suspended from the bench for up to 20 years, a sentence that could effectively end the career of the 54-year-old judge.

Mr. Garzón's own legal problems also stretch beyond his controversial civil war investigation, with two separate legal complaints filed against him - over personal funding allegedly received from a leading Spanish bank and over alleged illegal eavesdropping as part of a corruption investigation. Ironically, that investigation is now coming to a head, with prosecutors releasing this week evidence purported to show that several members of the opposition Popular Party were involved in a network of kickbacks and other illegal payments, including the former party treasurer Luis Barcenás.

By tackling the extremely sensitive issue of how modern Spain should come to terms with crimes committed during the civil war and the following four decades of Franco's regime, Mr. Garzón cemented his reputation as one of Spain's most polemic personalities, as well as one of its most ambitious judges.

Never one to shy away from politically charged issues, Mr. Garzón established his reputation as an international defender of human rights by making extensive use of Spain's doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which opens the door to prosecution within Spain of crimes committed outside the country.

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