Pinochet’s secret millions tarnish his image

October 19, 2004

Santiago: Former dictator Augusto Pinochet, admired by a quarter of Chileans, lost credibility even among his strongest supporters after the discovery of secret offshore accounts holding up to US$8 million (NZ$11.8 million), an opinion poll revealed on Monday.

Pinochet has long been reviled for widespread human rights abuses during his 1973-1990 military rule but most Chileans believed he was honest in money matters.

That upright image began to crumble last July when a US Senate committee found his accounts in the Washington, DC-based Riggs Bank held between US$4 million and US$8 million in the period from 1994 to 2002.

Two thirds of Chileans do not believe the explanation given by Pinochet’s family and lawyers that the cash is from his investments and savings, according to a poll by the independent Center for Studies in Contemporary Reality, or CERC.

Of those belonging to rightist political parties considered loyal to Pinochet, half did not accept that version either.

Fifty-nine per cent of those surveyed think Pinochet stole the money from government while in power, the CERC poll found.

CERC polled 1200 adults in 29 Chilean cities in late September and early October in a sample it says represents 70 per cent of the population.

Pinochet, now 88 and ailing, has lost political clout and is trying to evade trial in a 1970s murder case on grounds of poor health.

He has argued that killings and torture during his rule were committed by security agents without his knowledge.

The CERC poll asked Chileans if they agreed with the assertion that Pinochet “is a man with good intentions who did not know what his collaborators were doing.”

Sixty-three per cent rejected that idea, up 9 percentage points from a similar poll in 2003. Some 24 per cent agree with the statement, unchanged from a year earlier.

About a third of Chileans have consistently backed Pinochet’s legacy since he handed power over to an elected civilian government in 1990.

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