Pinochet faces fraud charges over secret £4.4m accounts

Jen Ross
The Independent
October 2, 2004

Santiago: Tax authorities in Chile have filed a formal lawsuit against the former dictator Augusto Pinochet, alleging massive fraud and tax evasion through offshore accounts that came to light in July.

The 88-year-old retired general, notorious for human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 rule, was widely believed to have been honest in handling public moneys until a financial scandal broke earlier this year.

He is also the defendant in hundreds of different human rights cases after he was recently stripped by the Chilean Supreme Court of his immunity from prosecution. The latest lawsuit comes after a US senate report revealed he was keeping secret accounts with up to $8m (£4.4m) at the Riggs National Bank, based in Washington DC.

Chile’s internal tax service alleges that General Pinochet filed “false or maliciously incomplete tax declarations.” If found guilty he could face up to five years in prison.

The US senate report said Riggs took pains to hide the money for General Pinochet, especially during the late 1990s when a Spanish judge issued an international warrant for his arrest on human rights charges and tried to freeze his assets.

Critics have said General Pinochet’s tax filings, which are on public record, did not reflect the assets in the accounts. General Pinochet’s family and financial advisers have said that the money came from legitimate sources, including donations from supporters and profitable investments.

Also named in the lawsuit is Oscar Aitken Lavanchy, the executor for General Pinochet’s will, who has represented General Pinochet in his financial dealings with Riggs.

The retired general is now facing the courts on numerous fronts. On Thursday he underwent two hours of psychiatric and neurological tests to determine whether he is mentally healthy enough to stand trial for his alleged involvement in 19 deaths in Operation Condor, which campaigners say was a brutal plan of repression against opponents of his dictatorship. The results of those tests are expected next Friday.

Errol Mendes, an international law professor and expert in anti-corruption at the University of Ottawa, Canada, said the new lawsuit was proof that both the government and the judiciary feel they can now launch full-scale attacks against General Pinochet.

“The chance of conviction is quite high,” said Mr Mendes. “Some of the most ignoble people in history have been caught more on financial matters – Al Capone, for example. It’s little known, but he was finally put away on tax evasion instead of how many people he killed in his life as a gangster.”

The allegations of fraud and corruption against General Pinochet have spread across the globe, and Mr Mendes said it could serve to universalise the fight against corruption.

Last month, Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge who tried to have General Pinochet extradited to Spain in 1998, widened his own investigation against the former dictator, adding charges of money-laundering and concealing assets.

He said that deposits made by General Pinochet and his wife in their Riggs bank accounts in 2002 violated an international embargo of his funds, decreed by Mr Garzon in October 1998.

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