November 30, 2009 / 3:23 PM / 10 years ago

Judge seeks $77 million in Pinochet embezzlement case

MADRID (Reuters) - A Spanish judge threatened to seize up to $100 million from Banco de Chile and individuals suspected of laundering funds for Augusto Pinochet, including the former Chilean dictator’s widow.

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is seen during a memorial service near Santiago in this September 7, 1998 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files

In a ruling made public on Monday by Spain’s High Court, Judge Baltazar Garzon ordered Lucia Hiriart and three Chilean bankers, together with Chile’s second largest bank, to pay $77 million as a bond while his investigation proceeds.

The ruling stated that the money would be held to cover “financial responsibilities which might arise,” but gave no further details.

Garzon has been investigating Hiriart and the bankers since 2004 for allegedly laundering money for Pinochet, after accusations made by the President Allende Foundation, which is involved in distributing compensation to victims of the late dictator’s regime.

Garzon, who tried to extradite the dictator in 1998 for human rights abuses, said that if they did not pay up in 10 days, he would order the seizure of $100 million from bank accounts belonging to the suspects and from Banco de Chile.

Banco de Chile said in a statement that it had still to be formally notified of the judge’s order, adding that it had already successfully defended itself against court action by the President Allende Foundation in the United States.

The bank’s shares were up 2.02 percent on the Santiago Stock Exchange at 1643 GMT.

Pinochet’s grandson, Rodrigo Garcia Pinochet, speaking for his family, said the charges were false and aimed at damaging his campaign for a seat in Chile’s Congress.

“After five years of this investigation, no relative of the former president and general Augusto Pinochet has been charged,” he said.

In 2005, Garzon secured an $8 million settlement for victims of Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship from Riggs National Corp, which admitted to helping Pinochet launder money.

Banco de Chile has already been investigated by Chilean authorities as part of the probe into possible money laundering by Pinochet, who died in 2006 without going to trial.

The attempt to extradite Pinochet and subsequent money laundering cases involving his family and a U.S. bank have been the most high-profile examples of Spain’s use of its legal principles of universal jurisdiction to pursue individuals for crimes outside Spanish territory.

Reporting by Jonathan Gleave in Madrid and Simon Gardner and Erik Lopez in Santiago; editing by John Stonestreet and David Cowell

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