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Pinochet 'used wide bank network'

Pinochet, seen in 2003 with some of his grandchildren, returned to Chile in 2000.
Augusto Pinochet
Great Britain

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and his associates used a wider network of U.S. bank accounts to conceal funds than previously known, a Senate subcommittee disclosed Tuesday.

Records from Riggs Bank, which agreed to pay more than $8 million to victims of his 1973-1990 dictatorship in February, led to more than 100 other accounts at other U.S. financial institutions, the committee's leaders said.

Pinochet held 28 accounts at Riggs, instead of the nine previously known, they said.

"This is a sad, sordid tale of money laundering involving Pinochet accounts at multiple financial institutions using alias names, offshore accounts and close associates," Sen. Norm Coleman, chairman of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, said in a written statement issued Tuesday.

Riggs agreed in February to release $8 million from Pinochet's accounts to a fund for victims of Chile's 1973-1990 military government. Under the settlement, approved by a Spanish judge, another $1 million will go to cover administrative expenses and court costs.

There was no immediate comment from representatives of Pinochet or Riggs.

The subcommittee estimated that Pinochet used those accounts as conduits to conceal millions of dollars over 25 years with "more personal, high-level contact between Riggs officials and Pinochet than previously described."

For years, Riggs Bank proclaimed itself "the most important bank in the most important city in the world." It holds a conspicuous piece of real estate across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House and Treasury Department.

The historic Washington financial institution pleaded guilty in January to a federal charge of failing to report suspicious transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars to regulators.

In 2004, a Senate investigation found Riggs had resisted regulatory oversight despite efforts to freeze Pinochet's assets worldwide and "red flags involving the source of Mr. Pinochet's wealth."

Under the plea agreement, the bank agreed to pay $16 million in fines but avoided money-laundering charges related to the deals, which involved accounts associated with Pinochet and officials of the government of the west African nation of Equatorial Guinea.

A wide-ranging investigation of money laundering and possible terrorist financing included a probe of Riggs accounts of Saudi Arabian diplomats, but there were no Saudi-related charges in the plea agreement.

"New information shows that the web of Pinochet accounts in the U.S. was far more extensive, went on far longer and involved more banks than was previously disclosed," said Sen. Carl Levin, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat.

Attorney Juan Garces told CNN the deal represents about 30,000 Pinochet victims. About 3,300 of them are dead or missing, and the others are in Chile and other countries.

In 2004, Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon requested that U.S. authorities file criminal charges against the bank and seven of its senior executives for allegedly concealing millions of dollars belonging to Pinochet. Criminal complaints against the bank were dropped as part of February's settlement.

Garzon had sought to bring criminal charges against Pinochet in 1998. The move resulted in the former general, now 89, being placed under house arrest in Britain for more than a year, until British authorities found he was medically unfit to stand trial.

He was allowed to return to Chile in March 2000 and he remains under investigation.

-- CNN en Espanol Correspondent Juan Carlos Lopez contributed to this report

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