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Pinochet: U.S. urged to charge bank

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

• Pinochet stripped of immunity
Augusto Pinochet
United States

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- A Spanish judge has asked U.S. authorities to file criminal charges against a U.S. bank and seven senior executives for concealing millions of dollars belonging to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The 11-page court order by Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has investigated alleged abuses by Pinochet, also asks the United States to effectively freeze nearly $10.3 million at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., in the event the institution is held liable for damages.

Garzon's order on Thursday was in a response to a request filed with his court last July by Spanish attorney Juan Garces on behalf of many alleged victims of Pinochet's regime, from 1973 to 1990.

A court official told CNN that Garzon's order informs U.S. officials that if they do not act, a Spanish court will press charges of money laundering and concealing assets against the bank and the executives.

Mark Hendrix, a Riggs Bank spokesman in Washington, told CNN the bank had no comment on the court order.

"I have not seen a copy of the order so it would be inappropriate to comment," Hendrix said in a brief phone call.

CNN then read to Hendrix the names listed in the court order as the seven Riggs Bank executives: Joseph L. Allbritton; his son, Robert L. Allbritton; Steven B.P. Pheiffer; Carol Thompson; Ashley Lee; Fernando Baqueiro; and Raymond Lund.

Hendrix reiterated that the bank had no comment and, asked if the seven are currently working for the bank, he said: "We do not discuss personnel matters."

In July, the U.S. Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a report saying Pinochet's accounts at Riggs from 1994 to 2002 contained between $4 million and $8 million.

Garzon in 1998 issued an arrest warrant for Pinochet, now 88, along with an order freezing his assets

"It is certain that the money has disappeared, to the detriment of the victims, and for this to occur there was the necessary cooperation of Riggs Bank," Garzon's order said.

It added that the efforts to conceal Pinochet's fortune occurred in the United States, Britain, Spain, the Bahamas, and elsewhere, through accounts in the name of Pinochet and his family members, or through off-shore shell companies created to hide the money.

Garces last July told CNN: "Pinochet 'one' was about torture and crimes against humanity," referring to earlier unsuccessful efforts to try Pinochet for genocide and torture. "Pinochet 'two' 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," he said.

Garces on Thursday said Garzon's order "is a very broad initiative to find Pinochet's assets."

The court order also levels the charges of asset concealment and money laundering against Pinochet and his wife, Lucia Hiriart Rodriguez, and a Chilean lawyer, Oscar Custodio Aitken Lavanchy, who allegedly helped them hide funds. It calls on Chilean authorities to press charges on those counts and to embargo Pinochet's assets in Chile.

It could take more than a week for U.S. authorities to officially receive Garzon's order, because it must first go from the courthouse to the Spanish government ministries and then be presented to U.S. officials, Garces said.

The U.S. 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.

Legal battle

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

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, the judge said, that victims would receive indemnity payments if Pinochet were ever convicted in court.

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

Last month Chile's Supreme Court stripped Pinochet of immunity from prosecution, paving the way for a possible trial for the former Chilean dictator on charges of human rights abuses.

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