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Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon Cleared In Franco-Era Probe Case

Spain's Supreme Court on Monday cleared judge Baltasar Garzon of charges of overstepping his authority while ordering a probe into human rights violations under the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Fascist leader Gen. Francisco Franco.

According to a Supreme Court spokeswoman, the seven-member judges panel voted 6 to 1 to drop the abuse-of-power charges filed against Garzon in connection with his investigations into atrocities committed during and after the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War.

Garzon had defended his decision to investigate the Franco-era crimes during an earlier hearing. He told the judges then that he had the right to investigate as the crimes committed during Franco's dictatorship constituted crimes against humanity.

At that hearing, Garzon, an internationally-acclaimed champion of human rights, also rejected charges of professional misconduct filed against him by two groups having links to Francoism. The two far-right groups, namely Clean Hands and Liberty and Identity, had sued Garzon for having overstepped his authority and for having ignored a 1977 amnesty granted to Franco's collaborators.

The case was assigned to the Supreme Court by investigating magistrate Luciano Varela who later said in a written ruling that Garzon "was aware of his lack of jurisdiction" while initiating the probe into the Franco-era crimes.

Varela also accused Garzon of constructing "artificial arguments to justify his control of the penal proceedings," and of trying "to take control of locating and exhuming" the mass graves during his investigation.

In response to Varela's findings, the Supreme Court indicted Garzon in April 2010 for ignoring the 1977 amnesty and issuing "multiple rulings which for multiple reasons are against judicial reasoning, and did so knowingly, eventually constituting an abuse of power."

Spanish prosecutors had earlier asked for the trial to be shelved. But the Supreme Court rejected their objections, saying the two far-right groups were concerned with "collective interests" and that the trial would proceed.

Garzon was suspended from his post as an investigating magistrate at Madrid's national court by Spain's General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), a judicial body that oversees the country's judiciary, in May 2010, pending a final verdict in his trial.

Garzon will not be able to re-join duty despite Monday's ruling, as the Supreme Court had convicted him earlier this month on charges of abusing his judicial powers by authorizing police for illegal interception of communications between lawyers and remand prisoners.

The court also banned him from the legal profession for 11 years. Garzon has pledged to fight the conviction in that case, which was over a corruption investigation involving politicians from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's People's party (PP) in Valencia and Madrid.

In addition, Garzon is also facing a third trial stemming from allegations that he had received bribes in the form of payments from Santander Bank for conducting seminars at New York University, while he was investigating a complaint. No date has yet been set for that trial.

Garzon shot into prominence over the past decade for his campaigns against former Latin American dictators and several leaders of various international terror organizations. He used Spain's doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which allows trying suspects accused of heinous crimes like torture or terrorism even if they are committed elsewhere and have no direct links to Spain.

Garzon, who spent his early years investigating Basque separatist groups, had issued a warrant for the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet while in London in October 1998. However, Britain refused to extradite him. He also indicted Osama bin Laden in 2003 for the 2001 September terror attacks in the United States.

by RTT Staff Writer

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