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Spanish Court Targets Chilean Bank Tied to Pinochet
03 Aug 2021

Nearly 15 years after the death of the former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, victims of his brutal regime are still trying to hold him and his associates accountable. And now the victims appear to be one step closer to justice — even if the courtroom is on the other side of the world.

This month, the Supreme Court of Chile was notified by the National Court of Spain that an investigation had been reopened in Madrid into whether a bank, Banco de Chile, helped General Pinochet and his associates launder millions of dollars overseas, according to court documents sent to the lawyers in the dispute.

The plaintiffs are led by the President Allende Foundation and represent more than 20,000 victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. The focus of the legal effort has been on funds  believed to have been expropriated by General Pinochet and his associates and transferred to personal offshore accounts, in what the plaintiffs say were also acts of tax evasion and money laundering.

Spain was chosen for the legal case because it has pioneered efforts over the past three decades to hold autocrats worldwide accountable for their crimes in jurisdictions other than their own countries.

While General Pinochet died under house arrest in Chile in 2006 without ever standing trial, he was detained in Britain in 1998 on the order of a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, who then failed to convince the British government to extradite him to Madrid. Britain instead allowed him to return home because of his ill health. In 2011, a Chilean commission investigating torture, kidnappings, murders and other human rights violations during the general’s dictatorship identified over 40,000 victims.

Banco de Chile had for years successfully argued that Chile rather than Spain had the jurisdiction to investigate its Pinochet-related operations. But  in Chile, the judiciary closed a money-laundering investigation in 2013 without charging the general or anybody else. According to a study commissioned by the Chilean Supreme Court, only $2 million of the $21 million identified as General Pinochet’s personal fortune could be accounted for as clean money.

Eventually, in 2018, Chile’s Supreme Court ordered the restitution of $1.6 million of General Pinochet’s assets, while sentencing three of his former generals for fraud related to public money. Banco de Chile was never charged in Chile over money laundering, but it paid $3.1 million to the Chilean authorities in 2009 over administrative irregularities relating to General Pinochet’s money.

The plaintiffs are hoping to achieve in Spain a result at least comparable to one reached in the United States, where Riggs Bank agreed in 2005 to pay an almost $9 million penalty. That allowed the bank to avoid prosecution for failing to report transactions that included money transferred to General Pinochet’s bank accounts. It followed a U.S. Senate investigation that also established that Banco de Chile was among the banks that helped General Pinochet gain access to the U.S. banking market.

By Raphael Minder, The New York Times, 30 July 2021

Read more at The New York Times

Photo (cropped and edited): nefasth [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

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