Pinochet’s wealth: fake identity also hid fortune in Chile

Sandy Mayson
The Santiago Times
March 8, 2006
While Chile battled recession in the early 80s, General Augusto Pinochet was using a false name to hide his fortune in Chilean banks.

This is the latest revelation in the ongoing investigation of Gen. Pinochet’s money laundering activities and embezzlement of public funds during and after his 17-year dictatorship. Pinochet’s secret wealth is estimated at US$28 million by court investigators, although many believe more money has yet to be discovered.

The alias, José Ramón Ugarte, is the same used by Pinochet to open accounts with banks in the U.S. and Europe. Those accounts have been under scrutiny since a 2005 U.S. Senate subcommittee report divulged Pinochet’s dealings with U.S.-based institutions including Riggs Bank, Citigroup and Bank of America.

The new information is that secret accounts were opened domestically as well, apparently with the support or at least the knowledge of Chilean banks. A report prepared by the national Investigative Task Force (Las Fuerzas de Tareas de Investigación), or FTI, documents communications between José Ramon Ugarte and three banks: Talca Bank, Banco de Credito e Inversiones (BCI) and Citicorp & Santiago S.A. Among the evidence is a 1981 missive from Ugarte to a functionary of Citicorp & Santiago S.A., with account records from Talca and BCI appended as credit documentation. The letter also includes a notary-certified signature and a receipt request for a deposit of US$30 million.

According to Carmen Hertz, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys in the case, the accounts constitute a violation of Article 160 of the General Bank Law, which forbids “obtaining credit from credit institutions, public or private, by providing false or intentionally incomplete data pertaining to one’s identity, activities, citizenship or residency status.”

Hertz said the accounts also confirmed a long history of financial crime: “In the exercise of dictatorial power Pinochet not only exterminated his opponents, but also committed every kind of illicit act to increase his personal fortune, which derived from scandalous acts of corruption.”

Pinochet’s lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez Grez, has confirmed the existence of the Chilean accounts but dismissed the prosecution’s charges. He claims that the accounts did not constitute a crime and that, if they had, the time elapsed since they were opened renders them immune from prosecution. All three banks are now defunct and Pinochet’s accounts long closed.

Newly released testimony from the General’s former Accounts Executive, Edgar W. Tatman, meanwhile, has added further wrinkles to the complex topography of the case. Tatman says that, to his knowledge, the funds kept by Pinochet in U.S. and European bank accounts were legitimate profits from the sale of Pinochet’s books – “The Decisive Day” (1981) and “Politics, Dirty Politics and Demagogy” (1983) – and that the General used a false identity to protect his family from possible kidnapping if the extent of his wealth were known.

Taking the offensive, Pinochet’s legal team is pursuing their complaint against Minister Carlos Cerda, the judge who had been directing the investigation of Pinochet’s alleged financial infractions. According to lawyer Rodriguez Grez, representing Pinochet’s former executor Óscar Aitken, “Minister Cerda’s investigation has exceeded every limit.”

Aitken is demanding disciplinary sanctions for Judge Cerda, who he accuses of having led a biased process, exceeded his authority in communicating with international authorities, and violated Gen. Pinochet’s rights by forcing personal disclosures.

The Supreme Court heard the complaint yesterday and has remanded the case to a court of appeals to be reviewed next week.

Categories: Chile, Odious Debts, South America

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