A Spanish court has ruled out extraditing a former policeman to Argentina on alleged torture charges during the Franco dictatorship.

The country's leading criminal court has said the statute of limitations against Jesus Munecas's alleged crimes had expired, adding the former policeman had no link to Argentina.

In its ruling, the court pointed out that in Spain the crime of torture, which carries a prison term of six years, has a statute of limitation of 10 years.

The charges against Munecas, a former Civil Guard captain, included torturing a prisoner in 1968 at a Civil Guard Barracks in Spain's northern Basque region.

During his extradition hearing earlier this month he denied taking part in torture and told the court he did not know his alleged victim.

The seventy five-year-old was the subject of an extradition request by an Argentine judge under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows certain human rights abuses to be pursued and tried elsewhere if the country in which they occurred does not investigate.

Another policeman, Juan Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, is accused of torture towards the end of General Francisco Franco's rule.

'Billy the Kid'

The court has yet to rule on the extradition request for Gonzalez Pacheco, known as 'Billy the Kid', who is accused of torturing 13 prisoners between 1971 and 1975.

The lawyer of the 67-year-old, who earned his nickname for allegedly spinning a gun around his finger as he beat his victims, has said he denies the charges.

Spanish state prosecutor Pedro Martinez has opposed the extradition of the two men, but has said that if Argentina wants to prosecute the suspects it should do so in Spanish courts.

However, the two men are unlikely to be tried in Spain because of a 1977 amnesty law covering political crimes committed during the 1936-39 civil war and under Franco, which was adopted in an attempt to unify the country.

Hundreds of Spaniards have turned to Argentine courts to seek justice for alleged crimes committed during the country's 36-year dictatorship, which ended with Franco's death in 1975.

Source: AFP