January 25, 2006

Chile says Pinochet’s daughter seeks US asylum

By Deborah Charles and Pav Jordan

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

Lucia Pinochet Hiriart, 60, was being moved to an
immigration detention center late on Wednesday after spending
most of the day at Dulles International Airport near
Washington, Chilean Foreign Relations Minister Ignacio Walker
told radio in Santiago.

Earlier, Interior Minister Francisco Vidal said Chile had
been told that Pinochet Hiriart asked for asylum.

"In the coming two or three days we will have a decision
from the United States which, I insist, will be a rejection (of
asylum)," Walker said.

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

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said Pinochet
Hiriart had been transferred to Immigration and Customs
Enforcement custody by late on Wednesday.

"The Department of Homeland Security is unable to comment
on whether or not an individual is seeking asylum," said
another department spokesman, Jarrod Agen.

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 was interviewed through the day by Customs and Border
Protection before being handed over to ICE, which enforces the
nation's immigrations laws.

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
had 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
station in Santiago 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 elected
socialist President Salvador Allende. He has been accused of
responsibility in the deaths of as many as 3,000 Chileans
during his rule, 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. 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)