Spanish judge Garzon may face trial for abuse of power.

The Spanish judge who won fame for his attempt to extradite former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet could go on trial himself after Spain's Supreme Court ruled he had likely abused his powers.

Spain's highest court ruled on Wednesday that Judge Baltasar Garzon likely abused his judicial powers in improperly investigating alleged human rights crimes carried out during the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain.

The judge who made headlines around the world could go on trial himself.

In 2008, Garzon ordered an investigation into an estimated 100,000 people who were shot and buried during Spain's 1936-39 civil war and under Franco's ensuing rule.

The investigation was later dropped by Garzon.

However, several right-wing groups complained he had knowingly exceeded his official remit during the investigation. On Wednesday a magistrate upheld the complaint, saying Garzon had acted without jurisdiction.

"Aware of his lack of jurisdiction and that the crimes reported lacked penal relevance when the proceedings began, (Garzon) built a contrived argument to justify his control of the proceedings he initiated," Luciano Varela, an investigating magistrate on the Supreme Court said in the ruling.

Garzon faces up to ten years in prison and a ban on working as a judge if found guilty. He has strongly denied that he broke the law.

Hero or fame-seeker?

Garzon is a divisive figure in Spain. Seen as a hero by leftists and international human rights groups, he is accused by Spanish conservatives of harboring grudges and seeking the media limelight with his pursuit of high-profile cases.

He made headlines around the world in October 1998 when he ordered the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London under the principle of "universal jurisdiction."

Universal jurisdiction holds that heinous crimes like torture or terrorism can be tried in Spain even if they had no direct link to the country.

Garzon has also been active in Spain's crackdown against the Basque separatist group ETA and is reported to be on their list of assassination targets.

[Source: Deutsche Welle, cb/Reuters/AFP, 08Apr10]

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