LETELIER CASE. Conspirator in murder of Chilean diplomat receives sentence. US `aggressively' seeks indictments of more officers implicated
A former Chilean secret police captain was sentenced here Wednesday to 5 years in jail for his role in the 1976 murder of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier. But Armando Fern'andez Larios, who pleaded guilty Feb. 4 to being an accessory to the car-bombing murder of Mr. Letelier and his associate, Ronni Moffit, will be eligible for parole on April 1, 1988.
US officials vowed after the sentencing to continue aggressively seeking indictments and extradictions of senior Chilean military officers implicated in the case. However, Washington is not expected to pursue the man that Mr. Fern'andez inconclusively fingered as the crime's mastermind: Chilean President Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.
Fern'andez provided the Federal District Court with firsthand testimony that indicated that Mr. Pinochet sought to conceal his government's role in the assassination. He also told of how another officer overheard Chile's former secret police chief make an apparent reference to Pinochet's having ordered the killing.
Letelier was Chilean ambassador to the US from 1971 to 1973 under socialist President Salvador Allende Gossen's government. He went into exile in Washington after Pinochet led a 1973 coup that overthrew and killed Mr. Allende.
Judge Barrington Parker said Fern'andez would be eligible for parole in less than 11 months because he had expressed ``contrition, regret, and remorse.'' Calling the case ``an additional chapter'' in the effort to track down the Letelier killers, Judge Parker said, ``Hopefully it's not the final chapter.''
Outside the courthouse after the sentencing, US attorney Joseph diGenova said the Justice Department is considering ways to bring two of Fern'andez's former superiors in DINA - the Chilean secret police - to the US to stand trial. ``We want them back in the United States,'' he said.
The two men, DINA's former chief, Gen. Juan Manuel Contreras, and the former head of DINA operations, Lt. Col. Pedro Espinoza, were indicted here along with Fern'andez in 1978, but in '79 the Chilean Supreme Court turned down a US extradition request.
``The Chilean system of justice has not been friendly to this case,'' charged Mr. diGenova, while a State Department official said ``we will not consider the matter closed until [the guilty parties] are brought to justice.''
Washington also intends to seek evidence against other Chilean officers who have not been indicted, diGenova added.
While maintaining that ``it is not appropriate to comment on decisions of the judiciary of a foreign country,'' Chilean Embassy spokesman Jorge Canelas said his government fully intends ``to cooperate with the US.''
Neither diGenova nor State Department officials would comment on whether the US is investigating Pinochet's possible role in the murder and its subsequent cover-up.
``The administration would, of course, be very hesitant to indict the President of a country with which the US maintains normal diplomatic relations,'' reasons Virginia Bouvier, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America.
Fern'andez made a dramatic appearance in court Feb. 4 after US officials secretly spirited him out of Chile. He explained how General Contreras had ordered Colonel Espinoza to oversee the assassination, and that Espinoza had sent Fern'andez to Washington in August 1976 to conduct surveillance of Letelier.
Consumed by guilt when he realized he had played a role in the murder, Fern'andez says, he was willing to return to the US in 1978 ``to resolve this matter.'' But Pinochet himself met with the young captain while Chile was reviewing Washington's extradition request, according to Fern'andez. The President said, ``Be a good soldier, tough it out, and this problem will have a happy end.''
In addition, Fern'andez said he learned from Espinoza of a conversation between Contreras and another general, in which Contreras explained that he had ordered Espinoza to coordinate the Letelier operation. Espinoza also told Fern'andez that he heard Contreras say ``the chief'' had given him the original order to kill Letelier. Fern'anez said he assumed this to be a reference to Pinochet.
State Department officials have said they cannot offer any definitive judgment on Fern'andez's accusation that Pinochet ordered the murder.
Letelier's widow Isabel sees Fern'andez's jailing as ``a positive step.'' But she calls on the Reagan administration ``to be consistent with its antiterrorism policy,'' arguing that ``General Pinochet and his team of killers must be brought to justice as soon as possible.''