Less than three weeks after banning Judge Baltasar Garzón from the bench for 11 years for ordering illegal wiretaps, Spain's Supreme Court acquitted him Monday of violating a 1977 amnesty law by initiating investigations into crimes of the Franco regime.

The high court concluded, by a vote of 7-1, that Garzón's October 2008 ruling to declare himself competent to investigate crimes of Franco's dictatorship was "erroneous," but did not represent a willful perversion of justice.

Garzón, who became an international figure in 1998 when he indicted late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, was formally expelled from the Spanish judiciary last week in accord with the Supreme Court's Feb. 9 verdict in the wiretapping case.

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The erstwhile judge violated the constitutional rights of defendants in a corruption case when he ordered their communications monitored during pre-trial detention, the Supreme Court said.

As an investigating magistrate on Spain's National Court, Garzón secured convictions of Al Qaeda and ETA terrorists and pioneered prosecutions of former agents of Latin American military regimes.

Human rights organizations, both in Spain and abroad, have rallied around Garzón during the cases that led to his ouster from the bench.

In response to Monday's decision, the spokesman for the Solidarity with Garzón movement, Luis García Montero, said that the Supreme Court's ruling to acquit the judge in the amnesty case shows that the charge was a "setup."

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According to García Montero, the Supreme Court could happily pardon the celebrated judge since his career had already been ended by his previous conviction for wiretapping.

The Association for the Recovery of Historic Memory expressed its satisfaction at Garzón's pardon, but asked that the judiciary not stop investigating the crimes committed during the 1936-1939 civil war and the Franco dictatorship, which ended only with the general's death in 1975.

Monday's verdict acknowledges the demands of victims of the Franco regime and concludes that no steps have been taken to find and recover their bodies or to promote reconciliation.

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