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Bank targeted over Pinochet funds

From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Augusto Pinochet
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge is being urged to charge a U.S. bank for concealing millions of dollars belonging to former Chilean dicator Augustus Pinochet despite a court order freezing his assets worldwide.

A Spanish lawyer representing alleged victims of Pinochet's regime made the request last week to Baltasar Garzon after a U.S. Senate report on July 15 concluded Riggs Bank had helped Pinochet "evade legal proceedings related to his Riggs bank accounts."

Judge Garzon in 1998 issued an arrest warrant for Pinochet, along with an order freezing his assets. He was expected to rule this week on the new request, said the lawyer, Juan Garces.

Garces told CNN that if Garzon agrees to proceed, it could result in the Spanish government formally asking the U.S. Department of Justice to press charges against Riggs Bank and its top executives allegedly involved in the money laundering.

"Pinochet 1 was about torture and crimes against humanity," Garces said, referring to earlier unsuccessful efforts to try Pinochet for genocide and torture. "Pinochet 2 is about the money the criminal made and hid.

"It's the same case, in two facets, and in both, the key is international judicial cooperation," Garces said.

Riggs Bank had no immediate comment on the request to press charges.

The U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, in a report issued July 15 in Washington, said Pinochet's accounts at Riggs from 1994 until 2002 contained from $4 million to $8 million.

The Senate report said Riggs Bank "resisted" regulatory oversight of the Pinochet accounts, "despite red flags involving the source of Mr. Pinochet's wealth, pending legal proceedings to freeze his assets and public allegations of serious wrongdoing by this client."

The Senate report also described other Riggs accounts under scrutiny that had been held by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington and, separately, by the leader of the small oil-rich African nation of Equatorial Guinea.

U.S. President George W. Bush last week promised a full investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing involving Riggs Bank and Pinochet's accounts.

A Riggs Bank spokeswoman said Tuesday the bank would have no comment on the Senate report.

Pinochet seized power in Chile in 1973 in a coup and ruled until 1990. He was arrested in October 1998 in London on a warrant issued by Garzon, who charged him with genocide, terrorism and torture in the deaths and disappearance of thousands of people, including some Spaniards, during his regime.

Garzon also issued an order in October 1998 to freeze Pinochet's assets as a guarantee, Garces said, that victims would receive indemnity payments if Pinochet were ever convicted in court.

After a lengthy legal battle, Britain permitted Pinochet to return home to Chile in 2000, rather than face extradition to Spain, on the grounds that he was unfit to stand trial.

Garces represents a class action suit, both criminally and civilly, by alleged victims of Pinochet, in addition to about 100 individuals or organizations with specific claims against him.


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