August 10, 2005

Judge arrests Pinochet’s wife, son on tax fraud

By Fiona Ortiz

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - The wife and youngest son of
former dictator Augusto Pinochet were arrested on Wednesday
after a Chilean judge charged them in a tax fraud case,
stepping up pressure on the retired general as human rights
cases against him have stalled in the courts.

Judge Sergio Munoz indicted Pinochet's wife, Lucia Hiriart,
and son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, as accomplices in tax fraud
involving up to $17 million in secret bank accounts that were
uncovered last year.

"If they want to arrest someone ... let it be me," Pinochet
said in a rare public statement faxed from his attorneys'

The former dictator said he takes responsibility for the
actions being investigated by Munoz, and denied anyone from his
family was involved. He asserted that he was innocent of fraud
or corruption and that he has already made up any taxes owed.

Hiriart, who is in her 80s, was being held in a military
hospital and Marco Antonio was sent to a jail that usually
houses white-collar criminals.

"This has had an impact on us ... This is like a bullet to
the head," said the general's eldest son, Augusto Pinochet
Hiriart, after visiting his mother.

His father, who seldom appears in public due to ill health,
also visited Hiriart in the hospital.

"She is in very poor health. They're going to kill her with
this," the son said. Pinochet and Hiriart have five children.

Hiriart and her son will remain in custody until a court
bail hearing, which could happen on Thursday or Friday.

Munoz has been investigating Pinochet's finances since last
year and in a recent court filing said the family hid funds in
more than 100 foreign bank accounts, often under false names.

Pinochet, 89, ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, a period when
more than 3,000 people died in political violence.

"This resolution ratifies that no one is above the law.
It's been that way since we returned to democracy," government
spokesman Osvaldo Puccio told reporters at the national palace.

Political scientist Guillermo Holzmann said the tax fraud
case shows the Pinochet regime's attempts to protect itself
from future prosecution while it was in power had failed.

"This is his weak spot and you can see the result,"
Holzmann said.

Chile returned to democracy in 1990, and many military
officers have been convicted for human rights abuses during the

Pinochet has been accused in dozens of human rights cases
in the courts, but has never been convicted because his defense
has successfully argued that he is too infirm to face charges.

Pinochet's defense has said all the money in the accounts
was legitimately earned through investments. Earlier this year
Pinochet paid at least $2.7 million in back taxes related to
the accounts.

"We believe a great error has been committed and a
tremendous injustice, because Mrs. Lucia has nothing to do with
Munoz's investigation," said Pinochet defense lawyer Pablo

A Chilean appeals court voted in June to strip Pinochet of
immunity from prosecution so he could face tax fraud and other
charges in the investigation. The defense has appealed that
ruling to the Supreme Court.

(Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Maria Jose
Latorre, and Manuel Farias)