January 25, 2006

Pinochet’s daughter said to seek U.S. asylum

By Deborah Charles and Pav Jordan

WASHINGTON/SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The eldest daughter of
former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet asked the United
States to grant her political asylum on Wednesday after she
fled tax charges in Chile, a Chilean official said.

Lucia Pinochet Hiriart, 60, was in custody at Dulles
International Airport near Washington pending a decision in the
case and after being questioned since early in the day, a U.S.
official said.

"The Chilean government has been officially informed by the
North American ambassador in Santiago that Mrs. Lucia Pinochet
Hiriart has asked for asylum in the United States," Chile's
Interior Minister Francisco Vidal said on national radio in

"The (Chilean) government rejects that stance. Political
asylum is for cases where there is no state of law or due
process," Vidal said.

U.S. officials would not confirm that Pinochet Hiriart had
requested asylum.

"Lucia Pinochet is currently in U.S. Customs and Border
Protection custody at Dulles International Airport, pending
resolution of her immigration status," said Jarrod Agen, a
spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

"The Department of Homeland Security is unable to comment
on whether or not an individual is seeking asylum."

Pinochet Hiriart has been charged with tax fraud related to
some $1 million in undeclared taxes and falsification of
documents as part of a widening tax evasion and fraud
investigation involving the Pinochet family.

She was served with a subpoena in Chile over the weekend to
attend court on Monday, but never appeared.

Pinochet Hiriart was pulled over for special screening
after arriving at Virginia's Dulles airport.

"She did arrive this morning at about 7 a.m. at Dulles on a
flight from Argentina and she's currently being interviewed,"
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency spokeswoman Suzanne
Trevino said.

Chilean officials said Pinochet Hiriart was considered a
fugitive from justice and President Ricardo Lagos said she
would be asked to return to her country voluntarily.

"As I understand it, contact has been made and we are
trying to see if she could return voluntarily to the country,"
Lagos told reporters.


A U.S. Justice Department official said the United States
has a limited extradition treaty with Chile, but it did not
cover all crimes and may not cover the criminal charges against
Pinochet Hiriart.

Media reports in Chile said Pinochet Hiriart fled to
neighboring Argentina by car on Sunday, a day before her mother
and four siblings were arrested on charges of tax evasion and
fraud linked to her father's multimillion-dollar bank accounts.

Pinochet Hiriart's son Rodrigo Garcia Pinochet told a radio
in Santiago that his mother had decided to visit the United
States and return in March to "clear up this situation."

"She never imagined being in this turmoil, in this
situation," he said.

Augusto Pinochet, 90, ruled Chile for 17 years after he
took power in a 1973 military coup that toppled Salvador
Allende. He has been accused of responsibility in the deaths of
as many as 3,000 Chileans during his regime between 1973 and
1990, and in tens of thousands of torture cases.

He was charged last year with evading taxes on an estimated
$27 million hidden in foreign accounts. Prosecutors say
Pinochet and his family stashed millions of dollars in more
than 100 bank accounts outside of Chile.

Observers say he may end up facing prosecution for tax
crimes before any of the human rights charges against him,
which are stalled in the courts because of his health.

On Tuesday, a Santiago court of appeals approved bail for
wife Lucia Hiriart, his youngest son Marco Antonio, and his
daughters Jacqueline and Veronica.

Pinochet's eldest son Augusto was released on Monday, hours
after being arrested on charges of falsification of documents
related to a fraud and tax evasion investigation involving more
than 100 secret foreign bank accounts.

The bank accounts have damaged Pinochet's reputation
domestically. The left has long accused him of being ultimately
responsible for thousands of deaths and the torture of tens of
thousands of leftists that occurred during his regime.

But many Chileans had supported him partly because he was
seen as a clean leader in financial matters compared with many
other Latin American presidents and dictators.

(Additional reporting by Antonio de la Jara in Santiago,
Louise Egan in Buenos Aires and David Wiessler in Washington)