Chile’s Pinochet briefly hospitalized after stroke

Ignacio Badal
May 19, 2005

Santiago: Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who faces a court investigation for possible crimes related to his multimillion dollar secret bank accounts, suffered a mini-stroke on Thursday and was hospitalized for several hours.

Pinochet entered the Santiago Military Hospital early in the afternoon and was placed under observation in the intensive care unit. A hospital source told Reuters he was discharged several hours later.

Pinochet, 89, has suffered similar health problems before. In an effort to deflect human rights charges stemming from his 1973-1990 rule, Pinochet’s lawyers have argued their client has mild dementia caused by frequent mini-strokes.

Earlier Thursday, a family friend told Reuters the stroke was serious, but Pinochet Foundation Director Luis Cortes later said Pinochet was conscious and not in critical condition.

About 3,000 people died in political violence during the Pinochet regime and tens of thousands were tortured and driven into exile as the military and secret police brutally targeted dissidents and opponents.

Pinochet has been accused of hundreds of human rights abuses during his rule but has never been convicted.

Chile’s Supreme Court has twice upheld lower court decisions that Pinochet should be stripped of immunity to be charged in rights crimes, but the one case that got the furthest was thrown out when his defense argued his mild dementia made him unfit to defend himself.

Secret bank accounts

On several occasions Pinochet’s medical emergencies have coincided with key court dates.

“Common sense tells us this criminal gets ill when he’s getting close to being tried or stripped of immunity from prosecution. He’s getting used to tricking the courts and I call on the judges not to let him get away with this act,” said Hugo Gutierrez, a prominent human rights lawyer who has brought cases against Pinochet.

The Santiago Appeals Court heard arguments on Wednesday on whether Pinochet should be stripped of immunity from prosecution to face accusations of corruption, embezzlement and tax fraud related to up to $17 million he hid in secret bank accounts.

The court is expected to rule next week. If it says Pinochet should face prosecution, his defense is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.

(additional reporting by Fiona Ortiz)

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