A priest who worked as a police chaplain during Argentina's military rule was sentenced to life imprisonment yesterday for collaborating in a number of crimes. Fr Christian Von Wernich, 69, was convicted for involvement in seven murders, 42 abductions and 31 cases of torture during the 1976-83 "Dirty War". The trial in the town of La Plata, 60km (35 miles) south of Buenos Aires, had lasted for three months. Fr Von Wernich initially avoided prosecution by moving to Chile, where he worked as a priest under a false name. He was eventually tracked down by investigators and extradited to Argentina in 2003. At the trial, several former prisoners said the priest used his office to win their trust before passing information to police torturers and killers in secret detention centres. They say he also attended several torture sessions. Father Von Wernich's lawyers said he had been obliged to visit police detention centres as part of his duties. The priest said he had never violated the secrecy of the confessional and accused those torture victims who gave evidence in court of being influenced by the devil. The news has been welcomed by human rights activists and survivors. Fr Von Wernich's actions caused particular outrage in Argentina because he had abused the trust placed in him as a priest. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people, including priests and religious, were killed or disappeared, before Argentina returned to civilian rule with the election of President Raul Alfonsin in October 1983.
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