August 15, 2005
A U.S. Federal Court on Friday impounded US$1 million in a Florida bank found in accounts belonging to former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and ordered the money returned to Chile where a special account has been set up by Judge Sergio Muñoz to receive the funds.
Chile’s State Defense Council, CDE, announced the action, noting that CDE president Clara Szczaranski and other Chilean prosecutors traveled to Florida to be on hand for the impoundment, which had been personally solicited by Szczaranski.
A Florida law firm, at the behest of the CDE, asked the Federal Court’s help in securing information about possible secret Pinochet bank accounts from four Florida banks.
La Tercera reports that the US$1 million impoundment came from the Coutts Bank, an upscale Swiss-based bank and wealth management service provider, although most of the national media reported that the bank’s name was “undisclosed.” The money was found in two accounts in the name of a Pinochet-backed shell company called Eastview Finance S.A. Szczaranski and her team of attorneys will apparently remain in Florida pending the response of the other banks.
The impoundment comes just two days after Pinochet’s wife, Lucía Hiriart, and youngest son Marco Antonio, were jailed as alleged accomplices in securing and hiding Pinochet’s wealth, and as accomplices in helping him evade taxes.
In further bad news for the Pinochet family, Chilean tax authorities announced Friday that both Hiriart and her son Marco Antonio will be charged with tax evasion in their own right, for allegedly filing fraudulent tax returns since 1999.
The indictments against the two Pinochet family members and the Florida impoundment stem from a 13-month investigation by Judge Muñoz into 128 suspect bank accounts held by the former dictator and into his numerous off-shore shell companies.
Pinochet himself has already been indicted for tax fraud, although the case has been appealed to the Supreme Court. Lucía Hiriart and Marco Antonio were co-signers on many of the accounts and Marco Antonio was a co-owner of many of the companies. Many of the secret bank accounts were opened with passports that had been stolen and falsified, according to Muñoz.
The investigation into Pinochet’s hidden wealth was sparked by a U.S. Senate subcommittee report on money laundering practices used by international terrorists. The U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation unearthed Pinochet’s secret bank accounts in the Riggs Bank of Washington D.C., which held US$6 million. The study also identified secret Pinochet bank accounts at other Chilean and international banks, including Citibank and the Bank of Chile.
The total amount of the former dictator’s former hidden fortune has been estimated at between US$17 million and US$100 million, but the figure now being used by those close to the Muñoz investigation is between US$27-35 million.
Plaintiff’s attorney Alfonso Insunza praised the action taken by the U.S. Federal Court, and asserted there is much more secret Pinochet money to be found.
“It seems to me a very positive thing because it definitely helps us in the effort to detect all the bank accounts Pinochet held abroad and his financial dealings,” said Insunza. “We calculate that it involves more than US$100 million, although only US$17 million have been found so far. Anything that helps locate the remaining bank accounts can only be positive for Chile and for our justice system.”
Insunza added that he hoped the Supreme Court would soon approve action by lower courts that stripped Pinochet of his immunity, and that Pinochet would be charged with “illegal association,” so that if he was found guilty, he could be stripped of all his properties.
In related news, Pinochet’s wife Lucía Hiriart returned to her private home on Friday afternoon in her Mercedez Benz, following two days of observation and treatment at the Military Hospital for hypertension.
Hiriart went to the hospital immediately following the arrest order issued by Judge Muñoz on August 10. Hiriart was conceded bail by the Santiago Appeals Court the following day, although her youngest son Marco Antonio was not, and so remains in the white collar Capuchinos jail facility.
As the “First Lady” of Chile during the 17-year Pinochet dictatorship, Hiriart oftentimes flaunted her power, but made no great display of her wealth – as wives of dictators are oftentimes want to do.
But she was known to be very hard-fisted in her attitude towards the Socialist government of former President Salvador Allende, who considered Pinochet to be one of his most loyal generals.
Hiriart has openly acknowledged, for example, that she worked hard to convince her husband to participate in the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup, and that she berated him often, saying their children would be raised in a Communist regime if he failed to act to put an end to the Allende government.
Most historians write that Pinochet joined the coup planners at the very last moment. Plans for the military coup were originally hatched by generals in the Air Force and Navy, most likely at the urging and with the assistance of the United States and the C.I.A.
Also regarding the secret bank accounts, Pinochet’s former executor Oscar Aitken filed a motion Friday to have the “accomplice to tax fraud” charges against him dismissed, arguing that Judge Muñoz’s impoundment of US$1 million in Florida shows that Pinochet managed his funds solely by himself. Aitken and Pinochet’s former personal secretary were both charged as accomplices to Pinochet’s alleged tax evasion two months ago, setting the stage for last week’s dramatic arrest of Lucía Hiriart and Marcos Antonio Pinochet.
Press reports in Chile suggest that several former top-ranked generals who were very close to Pinochet may also be snared by Muñoz’s investigation, and that considerably more secret money stashes may yet be announced.