Chile: Augusto Pinochet's Wife, Son Arrested for Tax Evasion

Article excerpt

Investigations into money laundering by the family of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) resulted in the arrest of his wife and son on Aug. 10. Lucia Hiriart and Marco Antonio Pinochet were taken into custody after federal investigations into foreign accounts implicated the two as tax evaders, along with former employees of Pinochet and members of his military command. Also being investigated are the origins of the money and whether the Pinochet family obtained its millions through legal means.

Allegations of untaxed millions lead to arrests

US congressional investigations of money laundering at the Riggs Bank exposed untaxed fortunes being held in the names of L. Hiriart and Marco Antonio Pinochet. The corruption charges brought to light by the US Congress' evidence of money laundering by the Pinochet family led many of the ex-dictator's former allies to denounce him publicly (see NotiSur, 2004-07-23).

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) said on Aug. 26 that "our investigation [shows] that Pinochet used US banks to launder money," referring to the conclusions of the congressional subcommittee he headed after looking into Riggs Bank accounts in March of this year.

The wife of the former dictator faced questions in June and July regarding the secret foreign bank accounts she and her husband held. It was the second time Lucia Hiriart was interviewed by a judge within a year. Investigating Judge Sergio Munoz interviewed Hiriart in a courtroom in central Santiago in late July regarding the allegations of tax evasion, false declarations, avoiding an assets embargo, and the use of false passports.

In June, a lower court stripped 89-year-old Pinochet of his legal protection regarding four alleged crimes linked to more than US$13 million in overseas accounts. Pinochet's lawyers are appealing, saying the funds were legally obtained.

Plaintiffs in the case say it would be impossible to accumulate so much money on Pinochet's earnings as a military leader and head of state. Although his immunity from prosecution has repeatedly been repealed, the general has never faced trial despite the many legal cases against him regarding human rights abuses. This is the first case of alleged financial crime.

At least US$31 million hidden in foreign accounts

In December, Chilean daily El Mercurio published allegations that the ex-dictator had, at least since 1997, distributed interest from the multimillion dollar accounts among his family, sending US$15,000 to his wife each month, US$5,000 to each child, and the remaining interest to himself.

Munoz sent out 14 appeals to European and Latin American countries to investigate whether Pinochet was maintaining secret accounts, in addition to 11 prior requests he made to the US and other European and Caribbean countries. Government newspaper La Nacion said that "government sources" had received communications from the Swiss government saying Pinochet had stashed US$3 million there, bringing his total known overseas fortune to US$31 million.

Munoz's investigations led to the Aug. 8 warrant for Lucia Hiriart's and Marco Antonio's arrest, along with Pinochet's former secretary Monica Ananias, former executor Oscar Aitken, two former high-ranking commanders of the Army, two generals, and a colonel, all with close ties to Pinochet.

Government spokesperson Osvaldo Puccio praised the prosecution effort, saying it showed that "no one in Chile is above the law."

Lorena Pizarro of the Agrupacion de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (AFDD) also said the prosecution was overdue. "The theft that the Pinochet family maintained in impunity over 17 years of dictatorship should be punished," said Pizarro.

Hiriart was detained at the Military Hospital in Santiago because of her poor health. Her son Augusto Pinochet Hiriart said the 82-year-old woman was "in a very bad state" after the announcement of her detention and imminent prosecution. …