Ex-Chilean spy chief Odlanier Mena commits suicide over transfer from luxury prison

Pinochet henchman shoots himself after learning of transfer from luxury prison

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 September, 2013, 8:41am

A former director of a Pinochet-era intelligence agency has killed himself, days after the government announced that it would close the exclusive military prison where he was being held for human rights crimes.

The inmates were to be transferred to a less privileged detention centre.

General Odlanier Mena, 87, shot himself at home on Saturday, officials said, where he had been allowed to spend weekends since mid-2011.

He had completed half of a six-year sentence for the 1973 murder of three leftists while commander of an army regiment in Arica, northern Chile.

Mena's lawyer, Jorge Balmaceda, blamed the decision for his client's suicide.

He revealed: "In the last letter he sent me he expressed concern for the transfer, which would cause him serious moral, physical and psychological harm."

Mena, who retired from the army, was head of the National Information Centre intelligence agency from 1977 to 1980.

The Cordillera Detention Centre in eastern Santiago, where Mena had been serving his sentence, was built in the grounds of the army's telecommunications base in 2004.

On Thursday, after reports about the preferential treatment of the Cordillera inmates prompted a public outcry, President Sebastian Piqera announced he would close the prison and transfer the 10 inmates there to Punta Peuco, a military jail on outside the capital, Santiago.

The president's decision came after a televised interview with General Manuel Contreras, former director of General Augusto Pinochet's National Intelligence Directorate, which was responsible for systematic human rights violations in the first few years of Pinochet's military dictatorship.

In the interview with CNN Chile on September 10, one day before the 40th anniversary of the coup that toppled president Salvador Allende, Contreras denied that the directorate had been responsible for any torture or crimes and expressed no remorse.

He was also imprisoned at Cordillera, serving a sentence of nearly 360 years for multiple murders and disappearances.

The Cordillera inmates, who range in age from 68 to 86 and include top commanders of the National Intelligence Directorate, lived in five cabins - each with a private bathroom - on grounds that include a tennis court, according to a court report on a visit to the jail last Monday.

They were assisted by nutritionists, kinesiologists, doctors, psychologists, social workers and a physical education professor, the report said.