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Chile sets precedent for holding dictators accountable for corruption

Pinochet facing charges on corruption

The decision taken by Chilean authorities to indict former dictator Augusto Pinochet on charges of fraud and corruption sets a crucial precedent: dictators will be held accountable for their corrupt acts.

“If the allegations turn out to be correct, the myth of clean dictatorships will be knocked down,” said Silke Pfeiffer, Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International (TI) Secretariat. “Authoritarian governments operate with high levels of discretion, allowing them to sidestep the public’s right to know and to hold them accountable. As the case of Pinochet shows, discretion often goes hand-in-hand with the abuse of power.”

“A clean country is not necessarily a country without corruption, but a country that responds quickly and decisively to each incident,” stated Davor Harasic, President of Chile Transparente, TI’s National Chapter in Chile. “Chile has always been proud that its Presidents finished their terms with an equal or lower level of personal wealth than when they took office. In Pinochet’s case, appropriate sanctions following due process would demonstrate to the world our national will to retain our tradition of honesty and public service,” he added.

The indictment issued last Wednesday by judge Carlos Cerda charges Pinochet with evading approximately US $2.8 million in taxes, using false passports to open international bank accounts, filing a false declaration of assets and forging income certificates. The charges relate to the secret bank accounts that he held abroad, especially at Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank N.A., of over US $25 million. In addition, another file was opened against the former dictator on the following day on the basis of human rights abuses.

If he is found guilty of the corruption charges, Chile will confront the challenge of repatriating the funds that Pinochet is accused of hiding in foreign accounts.

A powerful tool for recovering assets is the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which Chile and the United States signed in December 2003; its ratification in Chile is subject to the approval of the Chamber of Deputies. According to Harasic, “in light of the need to recover these assets, ratification of the UN Convention has become an absolute priority for Chile.”

Chile and the US have both signed the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, an agreement that compels them to provide mutual assistance for the identification, seizure and forfeiture of assets abroad. If Pinochet is found guilty of sending dirty money abroad, both countries must enforce the Inter-American Convention and repatriate those sums.


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