November 23, 2005

Pinochet charged with tax fraud, passport forgery

By Fiona Ortiz

SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Former Chilean dictator Augusto
Pinochet was charged on Wednesday with tax fraud, passport
forgery and other crimes related to an estimated $27 million
stashed in secret bank accounts under false names.

Judge Carlos Cerda, who is also the prosecutor on the case,
issued the indictment and put Pinochet under house arrest
pending trial, court officials said.

Pinochet, who will turn 90 on Friday, has been indicted in
two human rights cases in the last five years, but the cases
were thrown out by courts who ruled that his mild dementia,
caused by frequent mini-strokes, made him unfit to face trial.

Pinochet recently underwent physical and psychiatric exams
to see whether he was well enough to face a criminal process
and it is not clear whether his defense will be able to block
the new indictment on health grounds.

Pinochet paid $2 million back taxes on the accounts earlier
this year and says he is innocent of wrongdoing.

Pinochet's off-shore bank accounts came to light last year
in a U.S. Senate investigation of possible money laundering at
U.S. banks. Chile's courts began investigating the former
dictator's finances soon after and found more than a hundred
bank accounts in several countries under different names.

Judge Cerda is also investigating Pinochet for embezzlement
in the accounts case, and is looking into whether some of the
money came from kickbacks from European weapons manufacturers.
Those accusations were not included in the indictment.

Pinochet, who led a 1973 military coup that launched his
17-year dictatorship, lost his immunity from prosecution -- a
privilege of former leaders in Chile -- in the accounts case in

More than 3,000 people died in political violence during
Pinochet's 1973-90 rule, when tens of thousands more were
tortured or exiled.

(Additional reporting by Eric Lopez)