EXCLUSIVE: It’s not everyday one spends a few hours just a metre or two from an alleged fascist torturer, but this week in Sydney that’s exactly what happened when True Crime News Weekly publisher, Serkan Ozturk, was face-to-face with an ever-aging, small-statured, dark-haired woman said to be the right-hand woman of Chile’s notorious secret service during the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Adriana Rivas arrived in Australia from Chile in 1978. Settling in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, she would go on to lead a modest and outwardly rather unremarkable life. Having worked as a nanny and cleaner, since the start of this decade she had been living in public housing in Bondi. It’s likely that for a long period of her life in Australia, the Chilean national was looking forward to spending her autumn years spending a largely noiseless life pottering around the beachside suburb she had come to call home.
But that would belie a number of remarkable truths about Ms Rivas.
Now aged 66 and with silver streaks in her black hair, this quiet and seemingly law-abiding migrant was once something much, much more.
And, according to many – much, much worse.
Sitting in the glass-walled security dock at Sydney’s Central Local Court on Monday, May 27, Rivas was flanked by a translator and by the court’s security personnel. Seeking bail, she had arrived there through the court’s underground passageway and entrance reserved for the criminal milieu.
It is no secret Rivas was once a secretary attached to the chief of General Augusto Pinochet’s secret service after the fascist dictator gained power in Chile in 1973. Rivas though has called her time as an aide to an assistant to Manuel Contreras, the head of the dictatorship’s secret police, as “boring and mundane”. Aged in her mid-20s then, Rivas says she was just an ordinary employee.
A young Adriana Rivas with Manuel Contreras, the head of Chile’s secret service under fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet (Image: ABC)
Wearing glasses, and at times looking distressed and clasping her hands across her face, Rivas didn’t talk throughout the proceedings taking place apart from quietly conferring with her translator from time to time.
At a previous court hearing last week, Rivas is said to have mockingly waved to the public gallery which was filled with the supporters of victims of Pinochet’s heinous military regime which only came to an end in 1990. There was no such repeat display this time. Perhaps the fear she would not be getting out of jail anytime soon put a small dent in Rivas’s enthusiasm. Or, maybe it was the burly and intimidating presence of True Crime News Weekly as we took our place in the court’s front row, directly behind the accused in the dock. We should note we were the only media in attendance on the day.
The past few months in jail seemed to have taken some toll on Rivas.
She looks much more frail and has aged greatly since an infamous interview with SBS Television in 2013, during which she denied criminal allegations made against her, but strangely admitted to believing torture was useful for humanity.
“They had to break the people – it has happened all over the world, not only in Chile,” she said back then.
Now, it was her turn to shake and crumble. And this was only a court appearance, with no Chinese water torture drip in sight.
Adriana Rivas in 2013 during her now-infamous interview with SBS Television (Image: SBS)
Rivas has been in custody for the past three months following her arrest by NSW Police in February. It came on the back of years of pressure from the Chilean Government who have been seeking her extradition from Australia since 2014 over charges of the aggravated kidnapping of seven people. All seven victims have never been found. They are presumed dead.
Rivas was initially arrested while on a trip back to Chile to visit relatives in 2006 over her role within the powerful and secretive National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) but she fled back to Australia via Argentina in 2011 while out on bail.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Chile’s Government argued that Rivas’s history of skipping bail meant she posed a “significant risk of flight” should bail be given to her this time.
They also alleged that there was evidence showing Rivas completed at least 15 days of training with DINA in order to become an operative. Barrister Trent Glover told the court DINA operated as “above the law” and was for all intents and purposes a “criminal organisation”.
“Each count [of aggravated kidnapping] carries a maximum of five to 20 years in prison,” Mr Glover said.
During the hearing, Ms Rivas’s lawyer, Frank Santisi, claimed the extradition process was “doomed to fail” as there was no evidence she was an operative agent for DINA but instead employed as a secretary within the agency.
One of the witnesses in the case against Rivas is a man who was 17-years-old at the time of the offences. Mr Santisi however claimed his recollections were “vague”. He said there was no evidence Rivas was a DINA agent or an operative agent.
“There is no clear and concise statements … of what Ms Rivas is alleged to have done as a co-perpetrator,” Mr Santisi told the court.
In a bid to further delay any possible extradition of Rivas to Chile, her lawyers have also filed appeals in the Federal Court arguing that the Australian Government acted unlawfully when accepting the Chilean Government’s warrant for arrest.
Members of Australia’s Chilean community remember the victims of General Pinochet’s rule outside Central Local Court in Sydney (Image: Serkan Ozturk / True Crime News Weekly)
Lawyer Adriana Navarro, who is representing families of the victims, told True Crime News Weekly that once the Australian court decides on bail for Rivas, other issues related to the case will likely be fast-tracked.
“The families in Chile are very patient and very pleased with the proceedings thus far,” Ms Navarro said.
“It does take a long time for an extradition request to be resolved.
“However, we believe that once this issue of bail is determined we should promptly proceed to other stages of the extradition request.”
The court’s public gallery was completely packed with supporters of the victims and their families, including advocates from the National Campaign for Truth and Justice in Chile.
One sad and weary-looking woman introduced to True Crime News Weekly was the wife of a man who had “been disappeared” and never heard from again. The look on the woman’s face showed no hope and only told a tragic tale of her husband’s likely fate. One only hopes it was close to painless as possible. But knowing of the murderous evil which emanated from General Pinochet and his secret service cadres, even that small hope could likely be forlorn.
The bail hearing for Rivas was adjourned until next month so transcripts of a number of documents could be provided to the court.
She will be back in court on Tuesday, June 18 when Magistrate Margaret Quinn is due to rule on her bail application.
The alleged fascist torturer meanwhile was last spotted slowly walking down the stairs into the bowels of Sydney’s court system with police waiting somewhere deep down ready to whisk her back to the slammer for a few more weeks yet at least.