SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Six people were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison Wednesday for the 1982 death of former President Eduardo Frei Montalva, marking a historic ruling in the highest profile murder case from Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.
Judge Alejandro Madrid ruled that Frei Montalva was poisoned to death with “toxic substances” that were gradually introduced into his body while he was hospitalized at a private clinic.
“After 16 years, judge Madrid determined that the death of President Frei Montalva was a murder,” Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said on Twitter. “We condemn this murder with indignation.”
The six people were sentenced to between three and 10 years in prison for carrying out, covering up and serving as accomplices in the crime. They include Frei Montalva’s driver, doctors and former agents of Pinochet.
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“This is an unprecedented moment in the history of Chile, an assassination of this profile…ordered by Pinochet,” said former President Ricardo Lagos.
Frei Montalva was succeeded by Salvador Allende as president in 1970. When he died on Jan. 22, 1982 at age 71, he was becoming an opposition force against Pinochet, who began his 17-year dictatorship by ousting Allende in a 1973 coup.
The court complaint was first filed by Frei Montalva’s son, Eduardo Frei, who was also president of Chile from 1994-2000. The death of Frei Montalva had been investigated for years by the courts, and his family insisted the former leader had been poisoned.
According to an official report, 40,018 people were imprisoned, tortured or slain during the dictatorship. Chile’s government estimates that of those, 3,095 were killed, including about 1,200 who were forcibly disappeared.
Chilean authorities have said it was “highly probable that a third party” was responsible for the death of Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda in the chaos following Chile’s 1973 coup. The official version was that he died of cancer. But the investigation to determine if he was murdered is still ongoing.