Argentine ex-army chief acquitted of military-era kidnapping, torture

Argentine ex-army chief Cesar Milani, pictured in 2013, faces another trial in September over the forced disappearance of a soldier

Former Argentine army chief Cesar Milani was acquitted on Friday of the kidnapping and torture of a man and his son in 1977 during the South American country's last military dictatorship.

The court in the northeastern city of La Rioja, which also judged another 10 defendants, ordered his immediate release, according to the sentence read out at the end of the trial.

Milani was army chief from 2013-15 under center-left then-president Cristina Kirchner, who has been implicated in a dozen corruption investigations, the first of which went to trial in May.

The former army chief was a second lieutenant in the Battalion 141 in La Rioja in 1977, when he was accused of taking part in the kidnapping and torture of Pedro Olivera and his son Ramon.

The prosecution had sought an 18-year sentence against Milani.

Of the other defendants, four were acquitted and six sentenced to between three and a half and 10 years in prison for a series of offences including aggravated homicide.

The trial is one of a number related to crimes against humanity during the 1976-83 dictatorship, which left 30,000 people missing, according to rights groups.

In his last statement before the verdict was read, Milani described the accusations against him as "defamations, slander and insults."

The 64-year-old is not out of the woods yet, though: he has also been accused of the forced disappearance of a soldier named Alberto Ledo in 1976, for which he will face trial in September.

Milani has also been charged with illicit enrichment while serving as head of the army.

His appointment as commander in 2013 was widely questioned by human rights organizations, causing friction between them and Kirchner, who had proclaimed human rights to be a priority of her government.

Kirchner had been a proponent of trials for crimes against humanity after an amnesty law was canceled in 2003 during the government of her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner.

Milani retired from the army in 2015 and was arrested two years later. He had been held in pre-trial detention ever since.

Up to March 2019, 3,161 people had been investigated for crimes against humanity, with 30 percent jailed and 46 percent freed. There are currently 611 ongoing cases.