MADRID - Representatives of more than 5,000 survivors of the Chilean dictatorship
of Gen. Augusto Pinochet and the families of victims brought a lawsuit Monday
against the former dictator's executor, Oscar Aitken, in the Spanish capital.
The legal action was filed in the court of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón,
and urges him to investigate the elderly former dictator's lawyer on charges
of money laundering and fraudulent bankruptcy.
The lawsuit, brought by Spanish lawyers Joan Garcés and Manuel Murillo
on behalf of survivors of Chile's 1973-1990 de facto military regime and the
relatives of victims, will be incorporated in the legal proceedings opened against
Pinochet by Garzón in February 1996 in Spain.
In October 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London, where he had undergone surgery
for a slipped disc, on a warrant issued by Garzón, who was seeking his
extradition to try him for crimes against humanity, like the forced disappearance
of thousands of people, including a number of Spanish citizens, under his regime.
Although Pinochet spent 16 months under house arrest in London, he was eventually
released by the British government on humanitarian grounds.
Garcés, who served as personal adviser to Chilean President Salvador
Allende overthrown by Pinochet on Sept. 11, 1973 told IPS he was
confident that the case would prosper and that it would help compensate, "at
least in part, in monetary terms," the torture survivors and families of
In October 1998, Garzón issued an order to freeze Pinochet's assets,
anywhere in the world, as a guarantee that victims would receive compensation
if the retired army chief were ever convicted in court.
Today, Garcés and Murillo are also demanding a freeze on the assets
of Pinochet's executor, Aitken.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs point to Aitken's "acknowledged participation
in the creation of Abanda Limited in 1999 on Tortola Island in the British Virgin
Islands, to evade the  freeze on Pinochet's assets."
They are also seeking a freeze on the assets of Joseph L. Allbritton, Robert
L. Allbritton, Steven Pfeiffer and Carol Thompson senior executives of
the Washington-based Riggs Bank.
The expansion of the lawsuit presented Monday in Madrid is based on the report
"Money Laundering and Foreign Corruption: Enforcement and Effectiveness
of the PATRIOT Act, a Case Study Involving Riggs Bank" [.pdf].
The report, prepared by the minority staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, was released
on July 15.
The investigation "revealed transactions aimed at evading the freeze on
Augusto Pinochet's assets ordered by the Spanish court in any country where
they are located, whether under his name or the names of third parties,"
The brief lodged by Garcés and Murillo states that the alleged crimes
involving Pinochet's assets, including money laundering, were committed in Spain,
Britain, the United States, the Bahamas and Chile.
They also list bank accounts opened in affiliates of Riggs Banks in several
cities around the world, as well as transfers of funds between those accounts,
that took place on various occasions.
One of the accounts, opened in London on an unspecified date, became personal
account number 74-041-013 in April 1997 and was closed in May 2000, containing
a total of $1.1 million.
Those funds were transferred to Riggs Bank in the United States under the name
of an offshore shell corporation belonging to Pinochet, Althorp Investment Co.,
The U.S. Senate report states that "Riggs Bank assisted Augusto Pinochet
. . . to evade legal proceedings related to his Riggs bank accounts and resisted
OCC [Office of the Comptroller of the Currency] oversight of these accounts,
despite red flags involving the source of Mr. Pinochet's wealth, pending legal
proceedings to freeze his assets, and public allegations of serious wrongdoing
by this client."
Garcés pointed out that the "legal proceedings" cited by the
report referred to the freeze on Pinochet's assets ordered by Garzón,
of which the U.S. courts were immediately informed, and which remains in force.
The U.S. Senate investigation also mentions a visit to Chile, paid for by Riggs
Bank, by the private banker who handled relations with Pinochet. He personally
traveled to Chile to hand over cashier checks worth $50,000 each for
a total of $400,000 to the retired general.
These checks, and others that were sent by overnight delivery to Chile, were
made payable to Maria Hiriart (the former dictator's wife) and/or Augusto P.
Ugarte (Ugarte is Pinochet's second last name).
The checks, which totaled $1.9 million, were cashed one by one, over the space
of a few months.
The report also states, "When asked why Riggs didn't simply wire transfer
the funds to a Pinochet account in Chile, which would have been faster, less
expensive, and more secure than physically transporting checks to Chile, Riggs
personnel were unable to provide a satisfactory explanation."
Sources in Garzón's courtroom said admission of the expansion of the
lawsuit is pending acceptance by the prosecutor, which Garcés said was
virtually a sure thing.
The lawyer added that the money found in Pinochet's accounts in Riggs Bank,
estimated by the Senate report at between four and eight million dollars, could
be "just the tip of the iceberg."
(Inter Press Service)