Chile’s Supreme Court has ordered the confiscation of more than US$1.6 million belonging to deceased former dictator Augusto Pinochet, while condemning three retired military officers for their part in the ‘Riggs case’ embezzlement scandal.
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The ruling was the result of a 14-year-old case against Pinochet accusing him of embezzlement, and defying multiple appeals by his surviving family members.
Meanwhile, the retired officers Gabriel Vergara Cifuentes, Juan Ricardo Mac-Lean Vergara and Eugenio Castillo Cadiz were each sentenced to four years’ probation. Vergara and Cadiz must also pay fines of US$790.
In 2010, a study by the University of Chile revealed that Pinochet amassed a US$21.32 million fortune, out of which US$17.86 million were of suspicious origins. To date, only US$1.6 million of that has been confiscated by authorities.
The investigation was opened in 2004 after a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate revealed the existence of secret bank accounts belonging to the former dictator in Riggs Bank and elsewhere. The discovery was made amid investigations into the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on the Pentagon.
Pinochet was later accused of fraud against Chile’s IRS and falsifying passports, and was subject to impeachment for embezzlement. It was revealed Riggs Bank had assisted the dictator in discretely transferring funds to the United States from the United Kingdom after he was arrested in London in October 1998, using fake names such as Daniel Lopez and John Lonh. The case continued after his death in December 2006, but he was post-humously absolved of all charges.
In October 2007, Judge Carlos Cerda sentenced 23 relatives and collaborators of Pinochet on embezzlement charges, but the Supreme Court revoked 15 of the charges and decided to replace Cerda with Manuel Valderrama. Pinochet’s widow, Lucia Hiriart; five of his children, his lawyer Oscar Aitken and the accountant Jose Sobarzo were absolved.
But the new judge also ordered the closure of the part of the investigation suggesting Pinochet had accumulated his fortune through arm trafficking, and promptly absolved the former director of the Armament Factory of the Army, Luis Iracabal, and the engineer and retired brigadier Gustavo Latorre.
Pinochet’s widow had appealed the decision to confiscate the cash and the Appeals Court voted to return US$6 million to the family, but the Supreme Court later closed the case indefinitely and confiscated the heirs’ fortune "not because they’re guilty of embezzlement of public funds, but because that money comes from it."