Chile court ends 10-year Pinochet embezzlement probe; others face trial

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean court said on Friday it has completed a decade-long investigation into the origin of late dictator Augusto Pinochet’s fortune and the general’s suspected embezzlement of public funds.

An appeals court in Santiago decided unanimously to close the investigation, clearing the way for lead Judge Manuel Valderrama to formally accuse former military members who had collaborated with Pinochet in the so-called Riggs Bank case.

In August of last year, a court decided not to charge any of Pinochet’s family members in the case, but did charge three retired generals and three retired colonels for the suspected embezzlement of public funds.

They include Generals Jorge Ballerino, Ramon Castro and Sergio Moreno, and Colonels Eugenio Castillo, Gabriel Vergara and Juan MacLean.

Pinochet was charged in 2005 with tax evasion in connection with the millions of dollars held in foreign bank accounts, which came to light after a U.S. Senate investigation into banking irregularities at the now-defunct Washington-based Riggs Bank.

An audit by the Universidad de Chile’s Business and Economics faculty in 2010 estimated that Pinochet had accumulated $21 million before his death, of which more than $17 million was of unknown origin.

He is suspected of having opened 10 other bank accounts under the false name “Daniel Lopez.”

Pinochet, who took power following a 1973 military coup, died in 2006 at the age of 91. He never faced a full trial for crimes committed during his 1973-90 dictatorship, when an estimated 3,000 people were kidnapped and killed or disappeared and 28,000 were tortured.

The six former military members charged in the case could face five to 10 years in prison if found guilty.

Reporting by Erik Lopez, writing by Anthony Esposito, editing by G Crosse