A U.S. citizen living here who is wanted for questioning by the Justice Department in connection with the 1976 Washington murder of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Leterlier was expelled from Chile yesterday and was flown to New York in the custody of two FBI agents.
The Chilean government ordered the expulsion of Michael Vernon Townley, 35, for violating regulations governing the residence of foreigners here. Details of Townley's alleged violations here were not disclosed.
Townley's departure yesterday morning on a commercial flight to New York followed more than a month of speculation about the extent to which the Chilean government would cooperate with the 19-month old U. S. investigation of the Leterlier case.
A U. S. official said his government was "pleased with the cooperation of the Chilean government in releasing Townley to the United States."
He suggested however that considerable pressure had been applied to Chile. "It was made clear," the official said "that the facilitations of Townley's presence in the United States was a key point" in relations between the two countries:
The Justice Department has long contended that the bomb that blew up Leterlier's car was placed by rightist Cuban exiles acting on instructions from Chilean contacts, possible connected with the Chilean government.
Leterlier was ambassador to the United States and a cabinet minister in the leftist government of Salvador Allende, which was overthrown in a 1973 military coup. He was exiled by the government of President Augusto Pinochet in 1974 following a year's imprisonment, and as a U. S. resident he outspokenly opposed the Pinchet regime.
A major development in the Letelier investigation came last month when federal investigators presented the Chileam embassy in Washington with a list of questions to be asked of two Chileans who had travelled to the United States, who reportedly using official passports, a month before the killing.
It was not until several weeks later that published photos of the two officials taken from U. S. visa applications filed under assumed names were identified as Townley, an American who has spent most of the past 25 years in Chile, and Armando Fernandez Larios, an Army captain attached to DINA, the Chilean secret police.
Sources also linked Townley, an activist in a militant rightist organization during the Allende government, to DINA. Pinochet said last week that he did not know whether Townley had worked for the secret police, but he said the Armericans had "collaborted in telecommunications work" with the government.
For several years Townlwy, who is married to a recognized Chilean author, has worked as an automobile electrician here. He was indicted in 1973 for a separate murder in connection with anti-Allende activities, but the Pinochet government has apparently never sought his arrest.
Townley's expulsion was preceded by several weeks of tense diplomatic negotiations that included four visits Landau would be recalled to the by U. S. Ambassador George Landau to the Foreign Ministry and hints that United States.
Initially, the Chileans denied that Townley had used one of the official passports for a 1976 trip to the United States, and it remains unclear whether he in fact travelled on his own U. S. passport.
two weeks ago, Justice Department investigator Eugene Propper came to Santiago to supervise the questioning of Townley in a Chilean court.
After several days that questioning was held in a closed courtroom March on the Chilean government, which has Airline Officials said that three reser-
His refusal put additional pressure on the Chilean government, which has repeatedly denied involvement in the Leterlier murder, to allow his transfer to the United States.
Townley technically cannot be out under custody of U. S. authorities before entering the country. But informed sources said he would be immediately arrested in connection with the murder on arrival in U. S. territory. The sources said they expected his indictment within 48 hours.
A decree ordering Townlwy's expulsion was released late Friday evening. Airline officials said that three reservations to New York were made at that time by the U. S. embassy.
Never officially in Chilean police custody, Townley was reportedly brought to the airport in an official car, transferred to a diplomatic vehicle with two FBI agents and driven directly to the plane. While the Chilean law under which the decree was issued allowed 24 hours for appeal, that provision was apparently denied Townley.
As he was boarding, Townley's Chilean lawyer was in Santiago filing a habeas corpus petition for his release on grounds that Townley is wanted in Chile on the prior 1973 murder charge.