Pinochet fortune ‘at $23m’

Melbourne Herald Sun (Australia)
September 22, 2004
A probe by Chile’s top prosecutor into secret accounts kept by General Augusto Pinochet at a US bank has disclosed that the former dictator accumulated a fortune of nearly $US16 million ($22.9 million), according to a report published today.

The Santiago newspaper El Mercurio attributed its report to unidentified sources at the State Defence Council, an agency in charge of protecting the nation’s financial interests. An official at the Council’s press office said that no official comment would be made because the investigation was ongoing.

El Mercurio said that “one of the possibilities the Council is considering is to charge Pinochet with money laundering”.

The Council’s investigation is one of three opened here after a US committee looking into the Riggs Bank of Washington disclosed that Pinochet maintained several accounts there with deposits for $US4 million ($5.73 million) to $US8 million ($11.45 million) in the mid 1990s.

The other probes are conducted by the Internal Tax Service and a judge.

Relatives, associates and lawyers for Pinochet have insisted that the money is legitimate, the product of savings, donations and investments.

One lawyer said that Pinochet would be able to legally explain owning up to $US15 million ($21.47 million), but other lawyers say the fortune is closer to $US5 million ($7.16 million).

Pinochet, 88, has not commented on the situation. He has been recovering in his suburban Santiago mansion from what doctors described as an acute respiratory condition that kept him hospitalised for two days last week.

In addition to the problems stemming from the bank accounts, Pinochet is also awaiting to be summoned for questioning by a judge who may try him on human rights charges.

The Supreme Court stripped Pinochet of the immunity he enjoyed as former president, clearing the way for his trial in the so-called “Operation Condor,” a joint plan developed by the dictatorships ruling South American nations in the 1970s to suppress dissent. At least 20 Chileans were killed in the Operation, according to court papers.

Judge Juan Guzman, who asked the court to lift Pinochet’s immunity, has made clear he aims to try the former dictator.

The case is one of hundreds of criminal suits faced by Pinochet stemming from the human rights abuses during his 1973-90 reign.

The Supreme Court had pronounced him unfit to stand trial because of his deteriorated health. He has been diagnosed a mild case of dementia, suffers from diabetes and arthritis and has a pacemaker.

The same court, however, reversed its position last month after an interview that Pinochet granted to a Spanish language Miami TV station, in which Pinochet appeared lucid and said he sees himself as “a good angel.” He blamed the abuses on subordinates.

According to an official report, 3197 people were killed for political reasons under Pinochet.

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