Chile’s Pinochet received US$12 million from US and other countries, paper says

Santiago Times
December 9, 2004

Chile’s ex-dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet received multimillion-dollar payments from foreign countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, according to The New York Times.

Recently uncovered documents examined by the U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating money laundering at the Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank suggest that Pinochet received at least US$12.3 million from foreign governments between 1974 and 1997.

In an article published Tuesday, The New York Times revealed the contents of documents, including sworn statements by Pinochet, supplied to the subcommittee by the Chilean defense ministry.

In the documents, the payments made by the foreign governments were described as “commissions for service and travel abroad.”

According to the U.S. daily, Pinochet received US$3 million from the U.S. government in 1976 and, in other years, US$1.5 million from Paraguay, US$1 million from China, a combined payment of US$2.5 million from the United Kingdom and China, and a combined payment of US$3 million from the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Brazil.

Chilean media have rejected the version put forward by The New York Times.

Patricia Verdugo, an independent Chilean journalist whose father was a victim of the dictatorship, was the first to discuss the new documents at a news conference in Santiago last Friday.

Verdugo showed a copy of an internal document, No. 1026, belonging to the Chilean war secretary, part of the defense ministry, according to which Pinochet received US$6.8 million from the Chilean government – and not from foreign governments – to finance his official trips.

Pinochet’s first trip abroad after the Sept. 11, 1973 coup that brought him to power was to Brazil to attend the inauguration of dictator Ernesto Geisel in March 1974. He received US$800,000 for a three-day stay. Later that year, he visited another South American dictator, Paraguayan Alfredo Stroessner. He received 1.5 million, but the document does not specify whether the sum is in U.S. dollars or in Chilean pesos. In 1975 he traveled to Spain to attend the funeral of dictator Francisco Franco (at a cost of US$1 million), and in 1977 he was in Washington, D.C., together with other Latin American heads-of-state, to sign the Panama Canal Treaty, for which he received US$3 million. He was also given US$500,000 for an alleged trip to Argentina.

Other sums (unclear whether in pesos or U.S. dollars) were paid to Pinochet between 1995 and 1997, for trips as chief of staff.

Pinochet, 89, ruled Chile between 1973 and 1990, but remained Army chief until 1998.

The Chilean daily El Mercurio suggests confusion over the currency used might have led The New York Times to publish an incorrect amount of money.

According to Verdugo, the documents first considered by the U.S. Senate subcommittee July 15 also include Pinochet’s travel expenses when he visited the United Kingdom for the last time in 1998, during which period he was under house arrest outside London.

“It’s a legitimate question to ask how much of that money really constituted savings and how much was to pay for crimes,” said Verdugo, questioning Pinochet’s defense team’s claim that every penny in the Riggs accounts can be legitimately accounted for.

During the 17-year military dictatorship, 3,197 people were killed or disappeared and at least 28,000 tortured.

Defense Minister Jaime Ravinet said Tuesday he will order an internal investigation to uncover other documents that could shed light on the case.

Besides the U.S. Senate’s investigation, which started in 2001, in Chile Judge Sergio Muñoz is investigating tax and fraud charges against the former dictator.

Also after Pinochet is Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who in 1998 attempted to extradite Pinochet to Spain to face charges of crimes against humanity. The Second Chamber of the Chilean Supreme Court rejected Tuesday a request by Garzón to confiscate all Pinochet’s assets, arguing that the matter is already being investigated by a Chilean court.

Unnamed sources close to Muñoz told the daily La Tercera the judge is investigating whether Pinochet fabricated the travel expenses in an attempt to legitimize money in the secret accounts.

The Riggs Bank scandal has also sparked a debate over Pinochet’s alleged senile dementia, a condition that has prevented him facing trial for human rights violations in Chile.

Pinochet underwent new psychiatric evaluations in October after Muñoz demonstrated he had competently handled his offshore bank accounts during a period he was supposedly mentally incapacitated.

The tests were ordered by investigative Judge Juan Guzmán (ST, Oct. 4), who presides over the investigation into Operation Condor, the intelligence-sharing network used by the military dictatorships of the Southern Cone to eliminate dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s.

Guzmán is expected to make the results of the tests known soon, possibly today (Thursday).

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