Pinochet Watch no 57

26 August 2004

Pinochet Watch is an electronic news service of the Institute for Policy Studies.

TNI and the Pinochet precedent

In this issue:


In a 9-8 vote, the Chilean Supreme Court today ruled to strip former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet of his immunity from prosecution, upholding the May 28th decision (released July 5th) of the Santiago Appeals Court. Today's decision opens the way for Judge Juan Guzmán to continue his investigation and potentially interrogate and indict the aging General for his role in Operation Condor.

Operation Condor was a coordinated campaign uniting the security forces of Southern Cone dictatorships to carry out joint operations against political opponents, including kidnapping and assassinations. The 1974 Buenos Aires assassination of Chilean General Carlos Prats and his wife Sofia Cuthbert and the 1976 Washington, DC assassination of Chilean Orlando Letelier and American Ronni Karpen Moffitt, are two of the most well-known Operation Condor crimes. For more information about the Condor case, see Pinochet Watch 56.

The Supreme Court had, on three previous occasions, ruled that the 88-year-old General was mentally unfit to stand trial. Recent developments, however, appear to have changed the justices' minds. In November of last year, Pinochet gave a lengthy interview to a Miami television station. A few months ago, he went shopping for books.

The recent revelations of Pinochet's secret Riggs Bank accounts have also turned the tide against him. Earlier this month, as part of an investigation into those accounts, Judge Sergio Muñoz interrogated Pinochet at his home. Recent Chilean press reports indicate that during that interview, Pinochet spoke coherently about his bank accounts and indicated that they represented his lifelong savings. The U.S. Senate Subcommittee Report that revealed the existence of these accounts also noted that the former dictator had carried out dozens of bank transactions even after the Chilean courts deemed him mentally unfit for trial. See Pinochet Watch 56 for more information on Pinochet's Riggs Bank accounts.

Today's one-page ruling consisted of a single line in favor of stripping Pinochet's immunity: "Santiago, August 26th, 2004, the July 5th sentence is confirmed". At least two of the judges that voted in favor of stripping Pinochet's immunity also urged Judge Guzmán to order new medical exams for the aging General before taking any other steps in the case. The remaining paragraph of the decision briefly outlines the arguments of the minority: "...The law has been very careful to prevent the unnecessary indictment of a defendant when there is evidence that indicates that a sentence will not be able to be established". Click here for full text of the decision.

Human rights attorney Eduardo Contreras reacted to the decision, declaring: "Today the country dawns a little more democratic than yesterday because this sentence shows that there is no one out of reach, no one untouchable. Pinochet can be stripped of his immunity and I hope he will also be indicted by Judge Guzmán". The President of the Association of Relatives of the Disappeared, Lorena Pizarro, called the decision "historic", and told Reuters, "We're happy and we're going to keep pushing".

For more information, see:

Louise Egan, Pinochet Loses Immunity in "Operation Condor" Case IPS, Reuters, 26 August 2004

Por nueve votos contra ocho: Operación Cóndor: Suprema desaforó a general (R) Pinochet El Mostrador, 26 August 2004

Carolina Valenzuela Suprema confirma desafuero a Pinochet El Mercurio en Internet

La Nación, "Augusto Pinochet Perdión en la Corte Suprema" La Nación, 26 August 2004

"Abogados querellantes y familiares de desaparecidos: fallo es un precedente histórico" La Tercera, 26 August 2004

Pinochet's Banking Acrobatics May Take Him to Court for Crimes
Pascale Bonnefoy

Below is an article that provides background information on recent developments in the legal cases against Augusto Pinochet. Material from this more detailed article was incorporated into an August 26th, 2004 Washington Post article.

Pascale Bonnefoy, Washington Post, 25 August 2004

Thanks to the multiple transactions former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet personally handled with the Riggs National Bank and a lengthy interview broadcast in Miami last November while he was allegedly "mentally unfit" to stand trial for human rights violations in Chile, the Supreme Court may rule today to lift his immunity as former Head of State to face prosecution for the kidnapping, torture and disappearance of 19 political dissidents.

Seventeen magistrates must decide today whether the 88-year-old army general who remained in power for 17 years after toppling socialist president Salvador Allende in a bloody coup in 1973, should be subject to investigation for his leading role in the creation and crimes of "Operation Condor". This was the coordination of the secret services of South American dictatorships in the 1970's, specialized in cross-border assassinations spanning three continents, including the 1976 murder of former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and his American colleague Ronni Moffitt, in Washington, DC.

The Santiago Court of Appeals had ruled on May 28 that given his rank and position, Pinochet necessarily had "full knowledge" of actions carried out by his subordinates in the secret service DINA, "and was in a position to impede them", as prosecutors representing Operation Condor victims claimed. Unlike two earlier attempts to have Pinochet's immunity lifted to face other human rights investigations, this time, the lower court did not take into account his alleged "mental incapacity" to face trial, stating that this aspect should be resolved by each particular judge once the investigation is underway.

Prosecutors had also argued that a televised interview with Pinochet broadcast in Miami last November clearly revealed that he could coordinate and express ideas, recalling events from 30 years ago with great precision.

Defense lawyers appealed, confident that the Supreme Court would overturn the decision as it had twice before in other cases, on the grounds that the July 2001 upper court decision establishing that the former dictator was "mentally unfit" to undergo trial holds true for all future attempts to get him in court, as one of Pinochet's leading lawyers, Ambrosio Rodríguez, argued in hearings yesterday.

But in the meantime, prosecutors had a judicial bonanza fall on their laps: the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report released in July, detailing Pinochet's financial operations with Riggs National Bank from 1996 to 2002.

Prosecutors claim that since being declared officially "demented" in 2001, exempting him from prosecution for the execution of over 70 political prisoners in northern Chile, a case known as the "Death Caravan", the aging general has nevertheless had the clarity of mind to direct more than 30 bank operations, in the hopes of concealing assets of up to $8 million at the Riggs National Bank, and through offshore shell corporations in the Bahamas.

"The defense argument that Pinochet is mentally incapable of withstanding trial is contradicted by, for example, the Riggs accounts, which reveal that Pinochet has been able to carry out highly complex banking operations, demonstrating that he is lucid and may be tried," stated attorney Hugo Gutierrez before the justices.

Prosecutors also presented the Supreme Court with a report written by three psychiatrists who, after analyzing Pinochet's televised Miami interview, concluded that "he is undoubtedly capable of understanding the charges brought against him, instruct his lawyers for his defense, and understand the evidence presented against him."

Rodríguez, a former top government official under the Pinochet regime, presented a letter by the Cuban journalist who interviewed him, Maria Elvira Salazar, saying that because Pinochet committed so many mistakes, went into mental lapses and was often incoherent, the interview had to be "extensively edited". Rodríguez also justified the coordination of intelligence services in the Southern Cone, saying that it "wasn't strange for governments to coordinate with each other in their fight against terrorism."

Upon returning to Chile in March 2000 after being released from 17 months under house arrest in London, awaiting extradition proceedings to Spain to face charges for crimes against humanity, Pinochet was stripped of immunity as former Head of State, and less than a year later, indicted for the first time ever, for the "Death Caravan" murders. Months later, however, controversial mental exams found that he suffered irreversible, "mild to moderate dementia", and was unable to follow proceedings and instruct his lawyers, rendering him "mentally unfit" to face trial. Chilean law establishes "dementia", normally understood as craziness, as the only exemption for undergoing trial.

Since then, Pinochet and his wife have led a quiet life in their country estate 80 miles southwest of Santiago, the capital, largely ignored by politicians and the media.

Defense lawyers twice delayed yesterday's hearings in the Supreme Court, as they scrambled to find a coherent explanation for perhaps until now, the best kept secret of the Pinochet dictatorship – his personal wealth.

"In spite of his serenity, he (Pinochet) is confused. He has not been able to explain to me in terms that I can categorically state what the truth is (about his assets)", said defense attorney Pablo Rodríguez days after the Senate report was released, and hardly concealing his exasperation with the lack of cooperation from the Pinochet family.

While right-wing parties that flourished under Pinochet's wing now leaping to distance themselves from their former protector to avoid electoral fallout in the upcoming municipal elections, revelations of his hidden wealth shocked, pained, and even disgusted, once loyal subordinates. "Some retired military officers were already complaining that they were taking the brunt for human rights cases, going to prison while Pinochet kept silent without assuming his own responsibility. Now this...", lamented a retired army officer.

Pinochet and his wife Lucía Hiriart come from middle-class families. Two weeks after the September 11, 1973 coup, he signed a notarial document asserting that his assets totaled less than $6,000. Even if he had saved his entire salary as commander in chief of the army, President of the Republic, and Senator between 1973 and 1998, Pinochet would have been able to accumulate only $1.6 million. However, for some reason, today he and his wife possess $11 million, just in real estate, and it is still not clear whether the Pinochet's have other investments or funds stashed in other countries.

The Senate investigation into the Riggs accounts sent Chilean reporters on a massive and unprecedented quest to uncover the origins of the former dictator's wealth. Journalists, analysts and investigators have offered a variety of potential sources: obscure real estate operations, commissions for weapons deals, personal profit from the massive privatization of State-owned companies in the 1980's, and the secret funds allotted to the army every year, without need for accountability. Some include drug trafficking and money laundering in this list.

The independent State Defense Council suspects fraud, corruption and tax evasion, at least, behind Pinochet's uncovered riches, and formally requested a judicial investigation into its origins. "Since he doesn't have any known business activities, family wealth, or other lucrative activities, it is reasonable to believe that the money may have come out of State coffers," said Council president Clara Szczaranski.

Magistrate Sergio Muñoz, assigned to investigate the origins of what are now popularly called the "Pinoaccounts", has moved swiftly and silently, requesting reports from several State agencies and financial institutions on the records of Pinochet and 38 family members. He also asked for a copy of a confidential congressional report on a failed weapons development project Pinochet personally managed in conjunction with Britain's Royal Ordnance, cancelled last year, while sending detectives north and south to review official records in search of Pinochet-related transactions and assets.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies approved a motion to create a commission to investigate the sale of 51 State-owned companies during the Pinochet regime, eventual losses to State patrimony, and where the money from those privatizations ended up. The commission has until mid-December to file its report. A group of Chilean members of Congress is due to travel to Washington shortly to gather first-hand information on Pinochet's accounts.

In early August, judge Muñoz questioned Pinochet's wife and their five children, none of whom could offer a satisfactory explanation for so much money in foreign accounts. Two weeks later, the local media would discover that the magistrate had also interrogated Pinochet, without previously requesting that his immunity be lifted, as would be normal procedure. The 45-minute interrogation took place in Pinochet's home in Santiago, in agreement with his lawyers, but this does not mean, said defense attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez, that Pinochet is mentally fit for trial. "He cooperated voluntarily with the judge within his limitations," he claimed.

Eduardo Contreras, prosecutor in the Operation Condor case, disagreed: "What has changed in this case, with the Riggs scandal, is that Pinochet was interrogated by a judge with the acquiescence of his own lawyers, implicitly admitting that their client is perfectly capable of participating in judicial proceedings. If he is stripped of immunity this week, there may be an avalanche of requests to have him investigated for any of the other 300 criminal cases brought against him pending in courts", he said.

Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards; Sheridan Circle Memorial

Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards

The Institute for Policy Studies Invites you to join us on September 30th for the 28th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards. Honoring Military Families Speak Out and Seymour Hersh

Presenting the awards are Isabel Morel de Letelier and Mike Farrell, human rights activist known best as B.J. Hunnicutt on the TV series M*A*S*H.

The event will be at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. To find out more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit

Awardee background

Military Families Speak Out

Military Families Speak Out emerged in November 2002 as a forceful voice opposing the Iraq war. The organization now comprises more than 1,500 families with loved ones in the military. In addition to their continuing activism against the war, Military Families provides support for families who have lost loved ones. The network has inspired the modern peace movement with their deeply personal opposition to the war, as well as with their courage. In breaking the customary silence of military families, the group's members have risked ostracism from their own communities and support networks at their time of greatest need.

Seymour Hersh

Seymour M. Hersh is one of the world's most recognized and respected investigative journalists. He made his name in 1969 by revealing the My Lai massacre, reporting that earned him a Pulitzer Prize and has been credited as a catalyst for ending the Vietnam war. Hersh most recently made headlines with his explosive investigation of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. He is the winner of four George Polk awards, the author of eight books, and currently writes for The New Yorker. He is a particularly apt recipient of the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award because of his reporting on Henry Kissinger's deep involvement in the CIA's role in the Chilean coup.

Sheridan Circle Memorial Service

The annual Sheridan Circle Memorial Ceremony will be held on Sunday, 19 September at 10 a.m. at 23rd Street & Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.

Please share in our tribute to Orlando and Ronni's commitment to justice, peace, and human dignity.