MADRID Spain's High Court declined on Wednesday to extradite to Argentina a former policeman accused of torturing prisoners during the Franco dictatorship.
In its ruling, the court said the statute of limitations had run out on the 13 accusations against Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, 67, who denies torturing prisoners in Spain between 1971 and 1975, towards the end of the 36-year rule of Francisco Franco.
Franco-era officials cannot be prosecuted in Spain because of an amnesty enacted when the country returned to democracy in the late 1970s.
So some victims brought charges against Gonzalez, known as "Billy the Kid", last year in Argentina where grave human rights crimes can be pursued regardless of where in the world they happened.
The Spanish High Court said the alleged acts could be considered torture but did not constitute a crime against humanity because they were not part of a "systematic and organized attack on a (specific) group within a population".
There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity under a United Nations convention signed by 54 countries including Argentina but not Spain.
In an extradition hearing in early April, Gonzalez denied the charges. One of his accusers, Jesus Rodriguez Barrios, said the nickname Billy the Kid came from the fact he was "trigger-happy and liked to show off his weapons," El Pais reported.
The Argentine judge, Maria Servini, had also requested the extradition of another Spanish policeman accused of torture, but the High Court rejected that petition last week.
The United Nations urged Spain last October to draw up a plan to search for those who went missing under Franco and recommended scrapping the amnesty for political crimes committed during the 1936-39 civil war and under Franco.
Spain responded by saying that the amnesty would not be reviewed.
(Reporting by Inmaculada Sanz; Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Robin Pomeroy)