German ex-cult head faces new charges in Chile

SANTIAGO, Chile, March 21 (Reuters) – Ex-cult leader Paul Schaefer, a German citizen accused of aiding the secret police during Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship, was charged on Monday in the disappearance of a second political prisoner and with sexually abusing 26 children.

Schaefer led a cult of several hundred German followers in Southern Chile for decades. He fled Chile in 1997 and eluded capture until his arrest earlier this month in a Buenos Aires suburb.

A judge found Schaefer guilty of child sexual abuse in 26 cases last year, but because Schaefer was not present, the verdict was never formalized and the case must be resubmitted.

The 83-year-old former cult leader also faces charges in the disappearances of political dissidents Alvaro Vallejos in 1974 and Juan Maino in 1976.

Prosecutors say Schaefer, working with the former spy chief of dictator Augusto Pinochet, tortured and imprisoned some of Pinochet’s political critics at a remote cult compound.

Vallejos and Maino were last seen at Schaefer’s cult compound, known as Colonia Dignidad.

“Schaefer’s arrest was very important. We knew about the link between Colonia Dignidad and Juan Maino’s disappearance, but now that he is available for the judge to interrogate, we can prosecute,” Sergio Concha, the lawyer representing Maino’s family, told reporters on Monday.

In Chile, political prisoners who are presumed dead are referred to as “disappeared” or “kidnapped.”

Schaefer was charged in Vallejos’ case last week.

Michel Galasso, Schaefer’s court-appointed lawyer, said special Judge Jorge Zepeda charged Schaefer without getting an investigatory statement from him.

“In my opinion, this is a violation of his constitutional rights,” Galasso told reporters.

Some of Schaefer’s former followers have denounced him and vowed to help authorities in their investigations.

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