Almost 15 years after the death of the former Chilean dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, the victims of his brutal regime still They try to hold him and his associates accountable. And now the victims seem to be one step closer to justice, even if the courtroom is on the other side of the world.
This month, the National Court of Spain notified the Supreme Court of Chile that an investigation had been reopened in Madrid on whether Banco de Chile helped Pinochet and his associates launder millions of dollars abroad, according to court documents sent to lawyers in the dispute.
The plaintiffs are headed by the Fundación Presidente Allende and They represent more than 20,000 victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. The focus of the legal effort has been on funds believed to have been expropriated by Pinochet and his associates and transferred to personal offshore accounts, in what the plaintiffs say were also acts of tax evasion and money laundering.
Spain was chosen for the legal case because it has been a pioneer in efforts over the past three decades to hold autocrats around the world accountable for their crimes in jurisdictions other than their own countries.
While Pinochet died under house arrest in Chile in 2006 without having been tried, he was arrested in Great Britain in 1998 by order of a Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, who later failed to convince the British government to extradite him to Madrid.
Instead, Britain allowed him to return home due to poor health. In 2011, a Chilean commission investigating torture, kidnapping, murder, and other human rights violations during the dictatorship it identified more than 40,000 victims.
Banco de Chile had successfully argued for years that Chile, rather than Spain, had the jurisdiction to investigate its Pinochet-related operations. But in Chile, justice closed an investigation for money laundering in 2013 without charging the general or anyone else.
According to a study commissioned by the Chilean Supreme Court, only $ 2 million of the $ 21 million identified as Pinochet’s personal fortune could be counted as clean money.
Finally, in 2018, the Supreme Court of Chile ordered the restitution of US $ 1.6 million of Pinochet’s assets, while he sentenced three of his former generals for fraud related to public money. Banco de Chile was never charged in Chile for money laundering, but paid US $ 3.1 million to Chilean authorities in 2009 for administrative irregularities related to Pinochet’s money.
The plaintiffs hope to achieve a result in Spain at least comparable to that achieved in the US, where Riggs Bank agreed in 2005 to pay a fine of almost $ 9 million. That allowed the bank to avoid prosecution for failing to report transactions that included money transferred to Pinochet’s bank accounts.
A Senate investigation followed in the US that also established that Banco de Chile was among the banks that helped Pinochet to gain access to the US banking market.
In its report explaining why it was reopening the case, the Spanish Court said that Banco de Chile should set aside the US $ 103 million to cover the possible payment sought by the victims of the Pinochet regime. But the Spanish judge leading the case has not yet ordered the bank to post this bond. The amount is based on the conclusions of the Spanish prosecutor’s office in 2009 after it investigated possible money laundering by Pinochet.
Banco de Chile is represented in Spain by Cuatrecasas, one of the most important law firms in Spain.
None responded to inquiries seeking comment. Juan Garcés, a Spanish lawyer who works for the plaintiffs, said that if the bank refused to cooperate with the investigation, even with an advance bail order, the next step would be to get the Spanish judiciary to use bilateral agreements to bind the prosecutors from other countries to freeze assets owned by the bank.
A European legislation entered into force in December in order to improve judicial cooperation against evasion and laundering.