April 4, 1997
Argentine navy man confirms secret Dirty War files
By Stephen Brown
BUENOS AIRES - A former Argentine Navy officer, notorious for his confessions about the military's ``Dirty War'' in the late 1970s, confirmed Friday a press report that secret files on the victims were hidden in a Swiss bank.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo's report that the Argentine military smuggled out files on tens of thousands of people who ''disappeared'' during the 1976-83 dictatorship has raised hopes that the truth about their deaths may finally be known.
The Argentine government has requested information from Madrid about eight green tin trunks reportedly flown to Madrid in 1983, copied onto microfilm by Spanish intelligence, then taken to a bank vault in Switzerland.
Former navy officer Adolfo Scilingo's confession in 1995 about his role in flights over the River Plate when thousands of people were thrown to their deaths triggered a wave of ``mea culpas'' from the security forces.
He told Argentine radio Friday: ``I knew the documents were in Switzerland. They were taken there in 1983 by orders of the then commander-in-chief of the Navy, Admiral Ruben Franco. The files were filmed and they took three copies of the microfilm.
``Those documents are very important because each file has records on every person detained. They will show what was the motive of each 'disappearance' and there will be a lot of surprises about how many innocent people there were,'' he said.
After the Argentine military took power in a coup in 1976, they waged a brutal campaign on leftist guerrillas and anyone remotely suspected of sympathizing, even schoolchildren.
Human rights groups say up to 30,000 people were abducted and killed. Many bodies were never found. Their relatives, led by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, have long insisted there must be files on where and when they were killed and by whom.
``It's fantastic that this should come to light, but what worries me is they will want to certify the deaths of the disappeared whereas what we want to know is who killed them,'' said Mothers' leader Hebe de Bonafini.
Undersecretary for Human Rights Alicia Pierini wrote in Clarin newspaper of ``new hopes raised by the Spanish press report about documents recording the horrors suffered by Argentine society.'' She said the government of President Carlos Menem, who freed all Dirty War criminals with a pardon in 1989, would ``do the impossible'' to get hold of such files.
But the military questioned details of El Mundo's story and called it an attempt by the Spanish left to sabotage Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar's visit to Argentina on April 20.
``What is the aim of publishing this 21 years later? If the lists exist they should have been published in 1983,'' said one military source.
April 06, 1997
Spain denies it has Argentine missing archives
BUENOS AIRES - Spain has officially informed Argentina that it does not have copies of secret files on the victims of the Argentine military's ``Dirty War'' against leftist guerrillas, local media said Sunday.
Argentina asked Spain for information last week after the Spanish daily El Mundo reported that secret ``Dirty War'' files were flown to Spain in 1983, where they were microfilmed by Spanish intelligence before being stored in a Swiss bank.
The Argentine military denied any knowledge of the files, but former navy officer Adolfo Scilingo said top brass had lists of victims of the 1970s killings.
The Spanish government Saturday faxed a brief statement to Argentina that no such microfilmed copies of the files were kept in Spain.
Since the statement did not specifically deny that the microfilms had once existed, Argentine Foreign Minister Guido Di Tella will formally request more information from Spain this week, La Nacion newspaper reported.
Di Tella also plans to contact the Swiss government over the reports, La Nacion said.
At least 10,000 people were killed in the ``Dirty War'' waged during the 1976-1983 rule of the military juntas. Many of the victims were kidnapped and tortured before their bodies were dumped out of military planes over the sea.
June 12, 1997
Swiss freeze assets in Argentine ``dirty war'' probe
ZURICH - Swiss federal prosecutors have ordered a freeze on assets at four banks in Switzerland as part of a probe into Argentina's ``dirty war'' against leftist guerrillas, a spokesman said Thursday.
But Swiss investigators have found no evidence to back up a Spanish newspaper report that microfilm files listing victims of the military dictatorship's campaign are sitting in a bank safety deposit box in Lugano, spokesman Peter Lehmann said.
In Argentina, Defense Minister Jorge Dominguez said the Peronist Party government supported any moves to have ill-gotten funds in the banks confiscated.
``Of course, there is no doubt about that,'' Dominguez told local news agencies, ``The government will systematically support everything to do with clearing up the past and analyzing issues important to human rights.''
The Swiss Federal Prosecutor's Office was still waiting to hear whether the four banks would comply voluntarily with its order to hand over the assets, which may have come from victims of the Argentine military regime between 1976 and 1983, Lehmann said. The banks may decide to challenge the order, he said.
The move followed a request for legal assistance last year from Spain, where more than 100 suspects are on trial in Madrid in connection with the probe.
Swiss authorities asked around 600 banks in Zurich, Lugano and Geneva whether they have or once had assets in safe deposit boxes or in accounts under the names of the suspects.
``Many banks gave us a negative answer. We are still awaiting a response from many others, and four banks gave a positive response,'' Lehmann told Reuters. ``At these banks we blocked things and ordered them to be handed over.''
He did not say what the accounts might contain.
Federal prosecutors received a separate request for legal assistance from Argentina Wednesday concerning a report by the Spanish daily El Mundo in April, he added.
The paper said Spain's military intelligence agency CESID had microfilmed copies of secret documents listing thousands of people who had been kidnapped, tortured and killed under Argentine military juntas.
El Mundo reported that files listing victims were flown in eight green tin trunks to Spain in 1983, where they were microfilmed by Spanish intelligence before being stored in a safe deposit box in a Swiss bank where they allegedly remain.
Argentina's military has denied knowledge of the files.
Swiss Federal Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte opened an investigation when the article first appeared, Lehmann said.
``The bankers who were potentially involved were questioned and (the result) was negative,'' he said. ``The bank involved also gave us an answer that it had not provided any safe.''
At least 10,000 people were killed in the military dictatorship's campaign against leftist guerrillas. Many of the victims were kidnapped and tortured before their bodies were dumped out of military planes over the sea.
June 23, 1997
Argentina seeks Swiss help on ``Dirty War'' files
By Stephen Brown BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's top human rights official met Swiss officials in Geneva Monday to seek help for investigations into reports that files on victims of the ``Dirty War'' are hidden in Swiss bank vaults.
It is officially estimated that 10,000 people disappeared into clandestine detention and torture centers in the ``Dirty War'' on suspected leftists waged by the military during the brutal rule of the juntas from 1976-83.
Human rights groups say the true number of ``desaparecidos'' abducted and killed by the military is nearer to 30,000.
Argentina's Undersecretary for Human Rights Alicia Pierini said she delivered a letter from Argentina's President Carlos Menem for Swiss President Arnold Koller ``asking for support for the Argentine courts' probes into the 'desaparecidos.'''
Pierini told Reuters by phone from Geneva that she held talks with Koller's aide Walter Kirchen and the Swiss Foreign Ministry's top human rights official Urs Ziswiler.
``They expressed their solidarity with the work of the Argentine investigators,'' said Pierini.
So far Swiss investigators have found no evidence to back up Spanish press reports that the Argentine military, at the end of their six-year dictatorship, smuggled out secret files on the victims of their repression for hiding in Switzerland.
Swiss federal prosecutors have ordered a freeze on assets at four banks suspected to have come from Dirty War victims.
For years, Argentine human rights groups have demanded information from the military on what really happened to the ''desaparecidos'' and where their remains are buried.
The military always insisted all information was destroyed and it denied any knowledge of the files reported by Spanish newspaper El Mundo to have been flown out to Switzerland via Spain in eight green tin trunks in 1983.
Spain officially informed Argentina that it does not have any copies of the alleged files as El Mundo reported.
But former Navy officer Adolfo Scilingo, notorious for his confessions about ``death flights'' in which thousands of people were thrown to their deaths from Navy aircraft over the River Plate and the Atlantic, said in April he could confirm the files exist and contain ``records on every person detained.''
``They'll show what was the motive of each 'disappearance' and there will be a lot of surprises about how many innocent people were there,'' said Scilingo.