Chilean charged in 'missing' Spanish priest case

A retired army general who headed Chile's secret police under former dictator Augusto Pinochet was indicted on Thursday for the 1974 kidnapping of a Spanish priest, who was tortured and then disappeared.

Judge Jorge Zepeda indicted Manuel Contreras, the former chief of Pinochet's feared secret police, known as DINA, for arresting the priest, Antonio Llido, and taking him to a secret torture center where witnesses said he was savagely beaten.

"For this, the former members of the now defunct DINA have been indicted as authors of the crime of kidnapping," the judge said in his ruling.

Like hundreds of Chileans who went missing in the 1970s and 80s, Llido was never seen again. The suspicion is that he was murdered, despite efforts at the time by the Vatican and the Spanish government to secure his release.

Contreras, now 73, was sentenced to 15 years in prison last month for the kidnapping and disappearance of a young left-wing activist in 1975. He has already served time for plotting the 1976 car-bomb murder in Washington of a Chilean diplomat and the courts accuse him of masterminding the similar murder of a dissident army commander in Argentina.

Contreras, the highest-ranking Chilean military official convicted of human rights crimes, has denied the charges.

Eight other top DINA members were also indicted in the case of Llido, who was accused of helping a rebel group.

The priest's disappearance was key to Spain's efforts to prosecute Pinochet for rights abuses, leading to his arrest in 1998 during a visit to London. Britain released him after 17 months on the grounds of poor health.

Chile arrested the 86-year-old Pinochet on his return, but the courts eventually ruled him mentally unfit to stand trial.

More than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" by the military during Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship, according to an official report.