Globe and Mail
November 24, 2005
Despite age and infirmity, Augusto Pinochet cannot shake the dogged efforts to bring him to justice.
The former Chilean dictator, already facing unrelenting attempts to hold him to account for atrocities committed under his rule, was put under house arrest yesterday after being charged with tax fraud and using false passports related to tens of millions of dollars held in secret offshore bank accounts.
Human-rights groups and relatives of the dictatorship’s victims applauded the indictment.
Lawyer Hugo Gutierrez said General Pinochet’s arrest is a victory for those who still want him prosecuted for killings and kidnappings during his regime.
“If we hadn’t pursued Pinochet through all these years, what happened today would have been impossible,” he said.
But Gen. Pinochet’s lawyers said that the tax case will founder for the same reason that he has not been successfully prosecuted for actions during his 1973 to 1990 rule, when more than 3,000 political opponents disappeared or were killed after he led the military junta that overthrew Chile’s elected socialist government.
Pablo Rodriguez, one of his lawyers, said that Gen. Pinochet, who turns 90 tomorrow, is “prevented by his ill health to face a trial” and said his client was being “persecuted by international Marxism.”
Courts dealing with two of the atrocities cases have accepted that Gen. Pinochet, who suffers from dementia caused by strokes and diabetes, is unfit to face the rigours of a trial. But his detractors continue their attempts to prove that Gen. Pinochet has been trying make his health problems seems worse than they really are.
Gen. Pinochet’s overseas bank accounts were unearthed during a U.S. Senate investigation of money laundering at U.S. banks. Subsequently, Chilean investigators picked up the trail.
According to the indictment, Gen. Pinochet is accused of evading $2.4-million (U.S.) in taxes and using false documents, including passports, to open bank accounts that hold about $27-million.
His lawyers say that he repaid the taxes owed earlier this year, and that the bank accounts contained money from legitimate donations, savings and investments.
Meanwhile, in an unrelated matter, Chilean Judge Victor Montiglio is pursuing an inquiry into Operation Colombo, the “disappearance” while in custody of 119 left-wing activists who opposed the Pinochet regime. Their bodies were found later in Argentina and Brazil.
According to transcripts of Judge Montiglio’s questioning, Agence France-Presse reported, Gen. Pinochet testified: “I regret and suffer for these [human] losses, but God will forgive me if I have committed excesses . . . which I do not believe.”
With a report from Associated Press.