Spanish court targets Pinochet-bound Chilean bank

Madrid – after almost 15 years Former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet diesThe victims of his brutal rule are still trying to hold him and his allies accountable. And now the victims seem one step closer to justice – even if the court is on the other side of the world.

This month, the Supreme Court of Chile was notified by the National Court of Spain to reopen an investigation in Madrid into whether the bank, Banco de Chile, helped General Pinochet and his associates with millions of dollars abroad, According to court documents sent to lawyers in 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 money It is believed to have been seized by General Pinochet and his associates and transferred to personal offshore accounts, 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 to hold autocrats around the world accountable for their crimes in jurisdictions other than their own countries over the past three decades.

While General Pinochet died under house arrest in Chile in 2006 without trial, he was detained in Britain in 1998 on the orders of a Spanish judge, baltasar garzon, who then failed to persuade the British government to extradite him to Madrid. Instead Britain allowed him to return home due to his ill health. In 2011, a Chilean commission identified more than 40,000 people investigating torture, kidnapping, murder and other human rights violations during the general dictatorship. the victim.

Banco de Chile had successfully argued for years that Chile, rather than Spain, had jurisdiction to investigate works related to Pinochet. but In Chile, the judiciary closed a money-laundering investigation in 2013 without indicting the general or anyone else. According to A study commissioned by the Chilean Supreme CourtOf the $21 million identified as General Pinochet’s personal fortune, only $2 million can be considered clean money.

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

The plaintiffs are hoping to obtain an outcome in Spain that is at least comparable to one reached in the United States, where Riggs Bank agreed to pay approximately $9 million in 2005. a punishment. This allowed the bank to avoid prosecution for failing to report transactions that involved money transferred to General Pinochet’s bank accounts. It’s a US. followed Senate inquiry It also established that Banco de Chile was one of the banks that helped General Pinochet gain access to the American banking market.

In its report explaining why it was reopening the case, the Spanish court said that Banco de Chile should set aside $103 million to cover possible payments that victims of the Pinochet regime want. But the Spanish judge leading the case has yet to order the bank to post the bond. The amount is based on the findings of the Spanish Public Prosecution in 2009, when it investigated possible money laundering by General Pinochet.

Banco de Chile is being represented in Spain by Cuatrecas, one of the largest Spanish law firms. Neither answered questions seeking comment.

Juan Garces, a Spanish lawyer working for the plaintiffs, said that if the bank refused to cooperate with the investigation, including an anticipated bond order, the next step would be to ask Spain’s judiciary to use bilateral agreements to compel prosecutors in other countries. have to get to use. Freeze bank-owned assets. The EU law that came into force last December was designed to increase judicial cooperation against tax evasion and money laundering.

According to its latest filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Banco de Chile made deposits in a dozen countries last year, including six in the European Union: France, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Banco de Chile is majority owned by Quinenko, the holding company of the Luxic family, one of the wealthiest in Chile. The bank’s president, Pablo Granifo Lavin, is a defendant in the case. Banco de Chile closed its New York subsidiary after Riggs was implicated in questioning.

Spain’s national court is reopening the case, which was suspended for eight years, after concluding that the Chilean judiciary did not fully investigate the money laundering charges leveled against General Pinochet. Had it. A panel of three judges from Spain’s national court rejected Banco de Chile’s appeal against the reopening of the case in Spain, “the fact-check must continue,” wrote a decision. The Supreme Court of Chile was informed of the decision on 8 July.

The foundation that followed the trial is named after leftist President Salvador Allende, who died in 1973 military coup which removed him from office.

The court’s decision is in itself a victory for the plaintiffs against Banco de Chile, as the bank had been “for years trying to deceive the Spanish judges that their activities could be properly investigated in Chile,” said Mr. he said. “We have very solid evidence that leads us to believe that we can finally condemn those who helped the dictator rob him of his wealth.”

Mr. Gars once acted as Mr. Allende’s advisor. For decades, they have stubbornly pursued General Pinochet and his money dealings in different courts.

In 2005, the Allende Foundation filed its first lawsuit against Riggs Bank in Spain, accusing it of helping General Pinochet – as well as his wife, LucĂ­a Hiriart, and Oscar Aitken Lavanchi, the appointed executors of their estate – plagiarize. Bank accounts to transfer assets offshore. The trial was extended to include Banco de Chile as the bank working for General Pinochet, but Banco de Chile launched its own money-laundering investigation in Chile, convincing the judges that the issue was not Chilean. instead of in the case of Spain.

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