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by Gustavo Gonzalez

Chile Appears Set To Investigate, Not Prosecute Pinochet

(IPS) SANTIAGO -- Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's wife and grown children were charged with tax evasion and the use of false passports Jan. 23 in the Chilean capital.

Judge Mario Cerda, who is investigating the secret bank accounts of the former dictator (1973-1990) in what has been dubbed the "Riggs case," indicted Pinochet's wife Lucia Hiriart and his children Lucia, Jacqueline, Maria Veronica and Marco Antonio.

Marco Antonio's wife Soledad Olave was also charged with tax fraud, as was the former executor of Pinochet's will, Oscar Aitken, and the ex-dictator's former secretary Monica Ananias. In addition, former government official Érica Stemann was indicted for forging passports.

"Without a doubt we are pleased and happy about the indictment of Pinochet and his family," Lorena Pizarro, president of the Group of Families of the Detained-Disappeared (AFDD), told IPS.

"Just as they should answer for the crimes against humanity, the human rights violations, that were committed (during the dictatorship), they must also answer for their illicit enrichment, the theft that was committed against the entire country," she said.

"We hope the Pinochet family will go to prison just like any other criminals," said Pizarro.

Pinochet and Hiriart's oldest son Augusto is not facing charges of tax fraud but was indicted for using false passports, as were his sisters Lucia, Maria Veronica and Jacqueline.

Lucia Hiriart, Marco Antonio, Ananias and Aitken, who had already been accused of acting as accomplices to tax fraud, were out on bail. They will now have to post bail once again or face arrest on Tuesday, along with Jacqueline, Maria Veronica and Soledad Olave.

According to the indictment, the tax evasion began in the late 1990s and continued until 2005, while the biggest operations involving illicit enrichment occurred after the former dictator stepped down in March 1990, and intensified while he was under house arrest -- from October 1998 to March 2000 -- in London.

Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in Britain on a warrant issued by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who was seeking his extradition to Spain in order to try him for crimes against humanity. But the former dictator was released and allowed to return to Chile on humanitarian grounds.

The existence of secret bank accounts held by Pinochet, his family, and former government associates in the Riggs Bank based in Washington, D.C. was reported in October 2004 by a U.S. Senate investigatory committee.

Later probes also found that the former dictator and his family and closest associates had opened accounts, often under false names, in other banks in the United States, Europe, Panama and the Cayman Islands.

The false passports used by Pinochet's family members to open accounts abroad were issued between 1974 and 1989, during the de facto military regime ushered in by the bloody Sept. 11, 1973 coup in which Pinochet overthrew democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende.

Besides the charges he faces in the Riggs case, Pinochet, who turned 90 in November, is also facing trial in three cases involving human rights abuses, and is wanted by courts in Spain, Argentina and France for crimes against humanity.

Last Friday, the Santiago appeals court upheld a decision to strip Pinochet of the immunity from prosecution he enjoys as a former president. The verdict will allow him to be investigated for his alleged responsibility for torture committed in Villa Grimaldi, the biggest detention and torture center for political prisoners run by the dictatorship's secret police, DINA (Direccion de Inteligencia Nacional), in Santiago.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch praised the appeals court decision to lift Pinochet's immunity in what will be his first trial on charges of torture. The verdict set a precedent for other cases of torture of political prisoners, a crime that has been virtually ignored up to now by the Chilean courts.

In another important decision, handed down on Jan. 11, the courts deprived Pinochet of immunity in a case involving the murders of two political prisoners, Wagner Salinas and Francisco Lorca, who were killed by the "Caravan of Death," a special army mission that visited detention centers around the country in October 1973.

In July 2002, a trial against the former dictator involving 57 murders and 18 kidnappings carried out by the Caravan of Death was blocked by the Supreme Court on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

But neither Salinas nor Lorca was on the list of victims in that case, which made possible the Jan. 11 verdict, thus basically paving the way for the reopening of the "Caravan of Death" case.

On Dec. 26, the courts also allowed a trial to go ahead for "Operation Colombo," a media campaign staged in 1975, with the complicity of the dictatorships in Argentina and Brazil, to cover up the disappearance and murder of 119 Chilean leftists.

But a case involving the 1974 assassination by DINA of former general Carlos Prats and his wife Sofia Cuthbert in Buenos Aires was blocked by the Supreme Court, which invoked Pinochet's supposed senility.

The Court had also ordered the closure of a case against Pinochet for Operation Condor, a covert program by which the dictatorships ruling Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay in the 1970s and 1980s shared intelligence and coordinated efforts to kidnap, murder and "disappear" leftists and other dissidents.

Pizarro said the AFDD would try to secure the repeal of the decisions which state that the former dictator is unfit to stand trial since, she said, the most recent court verdicts show that it is false that he suffers from senility.

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Albion Monitor   January 26, 2006   (

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