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Switzerland to check Pinochet bank accounts

Tuesday, January 31st 2006 - 20:00 UTC
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Switzerland has decided to launch a probe of bank accounts allegedly belonging to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet that Chilean authorities suspect may be linked to arms contracts, confirmed Monday the Swiss Federal Justice Office in Berne.

The investigation by Swiss judicial officials comes in response to a request from Chilean authorities.

Chile originally made the request in March 2005 and after an initial rejection by Swiss authorities on the basis that it was incomplete, resubmitted it last month.

A judicial investigation in Chile has found that Pinochet, now 90, accumulated a fortune of over 27 million US dollars deposited in secret accounts, money for which he never paid taxes or can confirm the origin.

Pinochet also faces tax evasion and passport falsification charges, though whether he will stand trial remains to be seen, given his advanced age and failing health.

The former dictator still has to explain how he managed to get hold of millions of dollars when his annual salary as Army officer never exceeded 15,000 US dollars.

Reports in the Chilean media last September claimed that Pinochet may have served as middle man in contracts with arm suppliers to the Chilean army.

One of the deals involved the purchase of 22 Mowag armored vehicles acquired by the Chilean army in the 1990s from Switzerland's Mowag Motorwagen Fabrik, according to the Chilean press.

Authorities have found secret accounts belonging to Pinochet and people close to him in Spain, Argentina, Switzerland, the United States, Chile, Britain, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

Meanwhile the Santiago Court of Appeals released Monday Pinochet's eldest daughter on bail. Lucia Pinochet, 64, who also faces tax evasion and passport falsification charges, returned to Santiago over the weekend after spending six days on the run in Argentina and the United States, where she submitted and later withdrew a request for political asylum.

Several other members of the immediate family, including Pinochet's wife, also named Lucia, are charged in the case.

Categories: Mercosur.

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