Chile court overturns convictions for 1982 murder of former president Frei

Chile’s appeals court has overturned the convictions of six people for the murder of the former president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, in the 1980s during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.

The ex-president’s doctors, his chauffeur, an army officer and a former intelligence agent were sentenced to between three and 10 years in jail in January 2019 for the poisoning of 71-year-old Frei in a Santiago clinic in 1982.

Investigating Judge Alejandro Madrid determined that Frei died from an infection induced by toxins administered by Pinochet’s agents as he recovered from hernia surgery, while the doctors treating him covered up the poisoning.

But three judges sitting at the appeals court ruled on Monday that there had been insufficient evidence to make such a finding.

“The evidence gathered … was not able to demonstrate that the death is attributable to any fraudulent or negligent action by one or more third parties, nor to any omission attributable to (his doctors),” the court said.

“Eduardo Frei Montalva was not a victim of homicide, but died as a result of medical complications.”

Frei, a Christian Democrat who was Chilean president between 1964 and 1970, had initially supported Pinochet and the coup that overthrew socialist Salvador Allende in 1973.

But he later soured on the military dictatorship and became one of the leaders of Chile’s pro-democracy movement, a move that his family claimed resulted in his murder.

Monday’s ruling represents the latest twist in a lengthy legal saga in Chile. The murder charges were originally bought against the six men by Madrid in 2009, but were later dismissed.

In 2016, Madrid ordered the exhumation of Frei’s body which he asked foreign forensic experts to re-examine, bringing fresh charges after they reportedly detected mustard gas.

In a statement, lawyers for the Frei family said they would appeal the ruling in the supreme court, adding: “It is regrettable that (the appeal court judges) could not be convinced that the murder of the former president was the most sophisticated of the intelligence operations carried out by the military dictatorship, despite the existence of sufficient evidence.”