Driven by victims of General Augusto Pinochet's regime, court reopened an investigation into whether Banco de Chile helped the former Chilean dictator to launder money.
MADRID - Almost 15 years after the death of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet , victims of his brutal regime still tries to hold him responsiblethe, him and his associates. And now the victims seem to be taking one step closer to justice, even though the courtroom is halfway around the world.
This month, the Supreme Court of Chile was informed by the National Court of Spain that an investigation had been reopened in Madrid to find out whether a bank, Banco de Chile, had assisted General Pinochet and his associates. to launder millions of dollars overseas, according to court documents sent to lawyers involved in the litigation.
The plaintiffs are led by the President Allende Foundation and represent more than 20,000 victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. The legal effort focused on funds that were allegedly expropriated by General Pinochet and his associates and transferred to personal offshore accounts, according to reports the plaintiffs were also acts of tax evasionand money laundering.
Spain was chosen for the legal case because it pioneered the efforts over the past three decades to hold autocrats around the world accountable for their crimes in jurisdictions other than their own countries.
While General Pinochet died under house arrest in Chile in 2006 without ever being tried, he was detained in Great Britain in 1998 on l 'order of a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon , who then failed to convince the British government to extradite him to Madrid. Britain instead allowed him to return home due to his poor health. In 2011, a Chilean commission investigating torture, kidnappings, killings and other human rights violationss humans during the General's dictatorship identified over 40,000 victims .
Banco de Chile has successfully argued for years that Chile rather than Spain has 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 anyone 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 considered money clean.
Finally, in 2018, Chile's Supreme Court ordered the return of $ 1.6 million of General Pinochet's assets, while convicting three of his former generals for fraud related to the public money. Banco de Chile has never been indicted in Chile for money laundering, but he paid Chilean authorities $ 3.1 million in 2009 for administrative irregularities related to General Pinochet's money.
The plaintiffs hope to obtain in Spain a result at least comparable to that achieved in the United States, where Riggs Bank agreed in 2005 to pay nearly 9 million of dollars penalty . This allowed the bank to avoid prosecution for failing to report transactions involving money transferred to General Pinochet's bank accounts. "title = " rel = "noopener noreferrer " target = "_ blank "> Senate investigation which also established that Banco de Chile was one of the banks that helped General Pinochet access the market bank.
In its report explaining why it is reopening the case, the Spanish court said Banco de Chile should cancel the $ 103 million to cover the possible payments t that the victims of the Pinochet regime are looking for. But the Spanish judge in charge of the case has not yet ordered the bank to post this deposit. The amount is based on the findings of the Spanish Public Prosecutor's Office in 2009 after investigating a possible money laundering by General Pinochet.
Banco de Chile est represented in Spain by Cuatrecasas, one of the largest Spanish law firms. Neither responded to requestsfor comments.
Juan Garces, a Spanish lawyer working for the plaintiffs, said that if the bank refused to cooperate with the investigation, including with a advance bail order, the next step would be to get the Spanish courts to use bilateral agreements to force prosecutors in other countries to freeze assets held by the bank. European Union legislation entered into force last December member which was designed to strengthen judicial cooperation against tax evasion and money laundering.
According to its latest filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Banco de Chile last year had deposits in around ten countries, including six in the European Union: France, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Banco de Chile is majority-owned by Quinenco, the holding company of the Luksic family, which is among the richest in Chile. The president of the bank, Pablo Granifo Lavin, is the defendant in this case. Banco de Chile closed its New York branch after becoming involved in the Riggs investigation. Image Riggs Bank in Washington in 2004. The victims of the Pinochet dictatorship hope to achieve a result comparable to that of the United States, where Riggs paid a fine of almost $ 9 million. Credit ... Chris Ramirez for Hfrance.fr
The Spanish national court reopens the case, which had been suspended for eight years, after concluding that the Chilean justice had not thoroughly investigated the expropr accusations of inequality which had been brought against General Pinochet. "The facts must continue to be investigated, " wrote a panel of three judges from the Spanish national court in a decision dismissing the Banco de Chile 's appeal against the reopening of the business in Spain. The Chilean Supreme Court was informed of the decision on July 8.
The foundation which continues the trial bears the name of Salvador Allende, the left-wing president who died in a 1973 military coup which removed him from office.
The court's decision is in itself a victory for the plaintiffs against Banco de Chile, because the bank "had been trying for years to deceive the Spanish judges by convincing them that its activities could be the subject of an investigation appropriated in Chile instead, ”said Mr. Garces. "We have very strong evidence that we believe we can finally condemn those who helped the dictator launder his money.
Mr. Garces worked as an advisor to Mr. Allende. For decades he doggedly pursued General Pinochet and his silver trail in various courtrooms.
In 2005, the Allende Foundation filed his first lawsuit in Spain against Riggs Bank, accusing him of helping General Pinochet - as well as his wife, Lucia Hiriart, and Oscar Aitken Lavanchy, the appointed executor of his estate - to transfer the assets stolen from offshore bank accounts. The lawsuit was extended to include Banco de Chile as a bank working for General Pinochet, but Banco de Chile then launched its own money laundering investigation in Chile, convincing thes judges that the issue belonged to Chile rather than Spain.