Pinochet's widow, children arrested in fraud case

By Antonio de la Jara

SANTIAGO - The widow and five children of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet have been arrested as part of an investigation into allegations he stole US$27 million ($36.25 million) of public funds and hid it in foreign banks.

Judge Carlos Cerda also ordered the arrest of a further 17 people including retired military officers from the Pinochet era, friends, associates and the former leader's personal secretary, court officials said.

"There are more than 200,000 pages (of court documents). It's been closely investigated," Cerda told reporters.

The centre-left government described the arrests as a strictly judicial decision.

"The courts have ordered the arrests," Interior Minister Felipe Harboe said. "The government has no further comment."

Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973-1990, died in December last year at age 91 without ever being brought to trial to face embezzlement and human rights charges.

He left behind a widow, Lucia Hiriart, now 84, and five children: Augusto, Lucia, Marco Antonio, Jaqueline and Veronica.

The year before he died Pinochet was charged with tax evasion linked to the estimated US$27 million. He was also being investigated for fraud and embezzlement related to that money, which was frozen pending court cases.

The fraud allegations seriously tarnished Pinochet's image - even among those who supported him politically.

Prosecutors have always alleged that his wider family benefited from the alleged fraud and should be tried.

Pinochet, the most notorious of the military leaders who dominated South America through much of the Cold War, grabbed power in a US-supported coup against socialist President Salvador Allende.

Soon after the coup Pinochet's secret police began torturing and killing leftists and dissidents and his rule eventually became synonymous with human rights abuses.

More than 3000 people died in political violence during the dictatorship. Some 28,000 people were tortured and hundreds of thousands of Chileans went into exile.

Among the victims of the dictatorship was Chile's current President Michelle Bachelet, whose father died after being tortured in a Pinochet prison and who herself went into exile after being arrested and held in a torture centre.

- REUTERS


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