First corruption lawsuit filed against former Chilean dictator

July 20, 2004

Santiago: Two human rights lawyers on Tuesday filed the first corruption lawsuit against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for alleged financial crimes after the disclosure of his secret bank accounts in the United States.

Lawyers Carmen Hertz and Alfonso Insunza, who have worked on the issue of human rights violations during Pinochet’s 1973-1990 rule, filed formal charges with the Santiago Appeals Court against Pinochet for fraud, embezzlement and bribery.

The accusations were lodged after a US Senate probe into the Washington-based Riggs Bank found secret accounts opened for Pinochet that held $US4 million to $US8 million between 1994 and 2002.

All maneuvers to hide information by the retired Chilean general and Riggs Bank executives were “aimed at preventing the confiscation decreed by Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon,” Hertz said.

Garzon ordered a freeze of Pinochet’s accounts after he was arrested in London in 1998 on charges of crimes against humanity, but the US bank accounts were not found at the time.

“To us it is indispensable that in Chile, with all due transparency, the behavior of Pinochet is investigated, because he has made money transfers, according to the committee of the Senate, at least until 2003,” Hertz said.

However, Pinochet’s son and daughter said Tuesday that the Riggs accounts may have contained donations from friends who were worried about the costly legal battles Pinochet might face after he left power in 1990.

Hertz termed as “pathetic” the declarations by Pinochet’s son and daughter, saying that if the money deposited in the Riggs bank came from donations, they ought to have been declared for tax payment.

“Pinochet and his entourage have systematically lied in regard to the responsibility of Pinochet for the crimes, and lied about his relation to this embezzlement case,” the lawyer said.

The Chilean court immediately assigned a special judge to look into the origin of the funds held in the Riggs accounts. Chile’s state prosecutor, the State Defense Council, is also expected to launch its own investigation into the accounts later this week.

Pinochet, 88, who took control of Chile by ousting constitutional President Salvador Allende in 1973, faces hundreds of charges of homicide, kidnapping and torture in Chile but none of corruption.

There have been several failed attempts to probe his finances by journalists or lawmakers since the 1980s.

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