Chile Court Strips Pinochet Immunity in Fraud Case

Friday, August 18, 2006; 3:28 PM

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Chile's Supreme Court stripped former dictator Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution Friday to face charges in a $27 million tax fraud case, court sources said.

Pinochet, 90, has avoided being processed in a handful of human rights cases because of his health problems, which include mild dementia caused by frequent mini-strokes.

The ruling opens Pinochet to investigation and prosecution for embezzling millions of dollars in public funds said to have been deposited in secret bank accounts outside of Chile.

Chilean courts must decide on a charge-by-charge basis whether to strip Pinochet of his immunity -- a privilege of former presidents.

In October, Pinochet was stripped of immunity to face other charges in the tax fraud case, including tax evasion, falsification of documents and false declarations of properties.

The secret Pinochet accounts have had repercussions for international banks.

Riggs Bank, based in Washington, pleaded guilty to a criminal violation of the U.S. Bank Secrecy Act, an anti-money-laundering law, and agreed to pay $16 million for failing to report suspicious activity in Pinochet's accounts. Riggs was subsequently acquired by another bank.

And the New York and Miami branches of Banco de Chile , Chile's No. 2 bank, were fined $3 million for inadequate anti-money-laundering programs.

REUTERS Reut14:22 08-18-06

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