July 21, 2004
Santiago: A Chilean court formally opened an investigation into former dictator Augusto Pinochet’s finances for the first time on Tuesday after the disclosure of secret U.S. bank accounts led to accusations of fraud.
The discovery of the accounts sparked new hope among human rights activists of prosecuting Pinochet, who has escaped trial despite some 300 charges against him for human rights abuses when he ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990.
The accusations were lodged after a U.S. Senate probe into Washington-based Riggs Bank found secret accounts opened for Pinochet that held some $4 million to $8 million between 1994 and 2002.
The Santiago Appeals Court assigned a special judge to look into the origin of the funds after Carmen Hertz, a human rights lawyer whose husband was executed by Pinochet’s military after his 1973 coup, presented allegations of fraud, misappropriation of funds and bribery.
“Pinochet’s actions have to be investigated in Chile because he transferred money up until at least the year 2003 in a lucid manner and in contradiction with all the latest verdicts by Chilean courts that say he is crazy or demented,” Hertz told reporters.
A few hours later, the state prosecutor, or State Defense Council, presented a second request for the same judge to investigate Pinochet’s assets but without directly accusing him of crimes.
“In the opinion of this council and based on the facts gathered, the actions appear to be of a criminal nature. We just present the facts so that the justice system clarifies this situation,” said the president of the Council, Guillermo Ruiz Pulido.
Pinochet is now 88 and infirm, rarely venturing out of his Santiago mansion.
About 3,000 people were killed by his anti-communist security forces or disappeared during his rule but was seen as less corrupt on money matters than other Latin American dictatorships.
He has several properties in Chile that critics say he could never have afforded on his salary.
His family denies any allegations of corruption and speculated that the Riggs accounts may have held donations from friends who were worried about costly legal battles Pinochet might face after he left power in 1990.
They said Pinochet was confused and unclear when asked about the accounts.
A Spanish court ordered an embargo of Pinochet’s accounts after he was arrested in London in 1998 on charges of crimes against humanity but the U.S. accounts were not found at the time.
(Additional reporting by Erik Lopez)