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Agent of Chilean secret service convicted of murder attempt

By
PHILIP WILLAN

ROME -- A Rome court Thursday sentenced Michael Vernon Townley, a U.S. citizen who has admitted working for the Chilean secret service DINA, to 18 years imprisonment for the attempted murder in 1975 of Chilean opposition leader Bernardo Leighton.

The court presided over by Judge Sergio Sorichilli handed down an 18- year sentence with two years remission for the attempted murder of Chilean Christian Democrat leader and former Vice President Bernardo Leighton and his wife Anita Fresno.

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The couple were seriously wounded in a pistol attack on a Rome street Oct. 6, 1975, after settling in exile in Italy.

Townley, currently in a witness protection program in the United States, was tried in his absence. He has admitted in written tesimony commissioning th murder attempt on behalf of DINA by members of National Vanguard, an Italian right-wing terrorist group.

Three members of the group including its leader Stefano Delle Chiaie have been tried for the attack and acquitted.

Townley has said he worked for DINA from 1974 and commissioned a number of killings of opposition leaders outside Chile, including the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, on behalf of the organization.

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'Most of the orders for assassination operations abroad were given by General Manuel Contreras,' he told investigators in 1978.

Giving evidence at the Rome trial Wednesday, imprisoned Italian right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra said he had been told the order for Leighton's murder came directly from then Chilean President Augusto Pinochet.

'The order to eliminate an opponent of the Chilean military junta was given directly by General Pinochet,' Vinciguerra told the court.

He said he had received this information from his friend Stefano Delle Chiaie.

Vinciguerra is serving a life sentence for a 1972 car bombing which cost the lives of three Carabinieri paramilitary police.

He has admitted responsibility for the crime but refused to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Vinciguerra said he was 'absolutely certain' of Townley's direct participation in the Leighton operation.

Public Prosecutor Giovanni Salvi told the court Wednesday police had found evidence of Townley's presence in Rome at the time of the attack, as he had stayed in different hotels under his own name and under the assumed name of Kenneth Enyart.

Salvi said the order to kill Leighton, who was working to unify Chilean opposition forces, had come from a world where the torture and murder of political opponents was commonplace.

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'The court evidently held that the gravity of this crime required a very heavy sentence,' Salvi told repoer the verdict Thursday.

In his own summing up the prosecutor had requested a prison sentence of only eight years, in view of Townley's decision to cooperate with the justice authorities.

'I believe the gravity of the crime has been fully recognized and a heavy sentence has been meted out which is proportionate to the seriousness of the offence,' said Riccardo Olivop a lawyer representing the interests of the Chilean government at the trial.

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