Spanish Court Targets Chilean Bank Tied to Pinochet
MADRID – Almost 15 years after the death of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, the victims of his brutal regime are still trying to hold him and his associates accountable. And now the victims seem to be taking one step closer to justice, even though the courtroom is halfway around the world.
This month, Chile’s Supreme Court was informed by the National Court of Spain that an investigation has been reopened in Madrid into whether a bank, Banco de Chile, helped General Pinochet and his associates launder money. million dollars overseas, according to court documents sent. to litigation lawyers.
The plaintiffs are led by the President Allende Foundation and represent more than 20,000 victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. Legal effort focused on funds were allegedly expropriated by General Pinochet and his associates and transferred to offshore personal accounts, in what the plaintiffs say are also acts of tax evasion and money laundering.
Spain was chosen for the court case because it pioneered efforts over the past three decades to hold autocrats around the world accountable for their crimes in jurisdictions other than their own country.
While General Pinochet died under house arrest in Chile in 2006 without ever being tried, he was detained in Great Britain in 1998 on the orders 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 due to his poor health. In 2011, a Chilean commission investigating torture, kidnappings, killings and other human rights violations during the general’s dictatorship identified more than 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. Corn in Chile, the courts closed a money laundering investigation in 2013 without indicting 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 counted as clean money.
Eventually, 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 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 obtained in the United States, where the Riggs Bank agreed in 2005 to pay a fine of nearly 9 million dollars. This allowed the bank to avoid prosecution for failing to report transactions that included money transferred to General Pinochet’s bank accounts. It follows an investigation by the US Senate which also established that Banco de Chile was among the banks that helped General Pinochet gain access to the US banking market.
In its report explaining why it reopened the case, the Spanish court said Banco de Chile should set aside the $ 103 million to cover the eventual payment that victims of the Pinochet regime are asking 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 prosecution in 2009 after investigating possible money laundering by General Pinochet.
Banco de Chile is represented in Spain by Cuatrecasas, one of the largest Spanish law firms. Neither responded to questions for comment.
Juan Garcés, a Spanish lawyer working for the plaintiffs, said that if the bank refused to cooperate with the investigation, including with an early bail order, the next step would be to get the Spanish justice 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, intended to strengthen judicial cooperation against tax evasion and money laundering.
According to its latest file with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Banco de Chile last year had deposits in a dozen countries, including six in the European Union: France, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Netherlands.
Banco de Chile is majority owned by Quiñenco, the holding company of the Luksic family, which is among the richest in Chile. The president of the bank, Pablo Granifo Lavín, is the defendant in this case. Banco de Chile closed its branch in New York after becoming involved in the Riggs investigation.
The Spanish national court is reopening the case, which had been suspended for eight years, after concluding that the Chilean justice had not thoroughly investigated the accusations of expropriation of wealth that had been brought against General Pinochet. “The facts must continue to be investigated,” wrote a panel of three judges from Spain’s national court in a decision dismissing Banco de Chile’s appeal against the reopening of the case in Spain. The Chilean Supreme Court was notified of the decision on July 8.
The foundation that is continuing the trial is named after Salvador Allende, the leftist president who died in a 1973 military coup that ousted him from office.
The court’s decision is in itself a victory for the plaintiffs against Banco de Chile, as the bank “had for years sought to deceive the Spanish judges by convincing them that its activities could instead be the subject of an investigation in Chile”, said Mr. Garcés. “We have very strong evidence that leads us to believe that we can finally condemn those who helped the dictator launder his money.”
Mr. Garcés previously worked as an advisor to Mr. Allende. For decades he relentlessly pursued General Pinochet and his silver trail in various courtrooms.
In 2005, the Allende Foundation filed its first lawsuit in Spain against Riggs Bank, accusing it of aiding General Pinochet – as well as his wife, Lucía Hiriart, and Oscar Aitken Lavanchy, the appointed executor of his estate – to transfer stolen assets offshore. Bank accounts. The trial 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 the judges that the matter belonged to Chile rather than to Spain.
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