Inquiry into alleged stash of gold at HSBC

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet may have stashed millions of dollars in gold in a Hong Kong bank.

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet may have stashed millions of dollars in gold in a Hong Kong bank.

Officials are seeking to freeze any fortune while it is investigated.

Local media put the total amount allegedly deposited at the HSBC bank in Hong Kong at some $160m (€126.5m).

Pinochet’s attorney denied the reports.

“The only gold General Pinochet owns is his wedding ring,” said Pablo Rodriguez, suggesting the disclosure by the government was a “smoke screen” to distract attention from an ongoing probe of alleged corruption at the government’s sports promotion office.

Pinochet’s wife, Lucia Hiriart, called the report “a mean action aimed at deceiving people. It’s incredible".

She said that while she visited Hong Kong twice with Pinochet, “that doesn’t mean we move around carrying tonnes of gold".

The government of president Michelle Bachelet, who was tortured at a detention centre during Pinochet’s 1973-1990 dictatorship, said it was investigating the reports.

Foreign minister Alejandro Foxley said: “We received information through one of our diplomatic missions abroad several days ago.”

The council said it was seeking to have the accounts allegedly linked to Pinochet frozen “in order to prevent the eventual sale of what may really exist in the deposit".

The discovery was part of an investigation into Pinochet’s fortune abroad that began in 2004 after a US Senate investigative committee disclosed that the 90-year-old former ruler held millions of dollars at the Riggs Bank in Washington.

Since then, Pinochet’s fortune at several foreign banks had been estimated at $28m (€22.3m). He allegedly used false passports to open some of the accounts.

Pinochet is under indictment on tax evasion charges, and the money has been frozen.

While his staunchest right-wing supporters stood by him as he faced charges for human rights abuses during his regime, many have since distanced themselves from the former dictator since news of the foreign bank accounts emerged.

“Everything that has to do with Pinochet belongs to the past, but the mere announcement of this causes astonishment,” said Hernan Larrain, president of the Democratic Independent Union party.

However, he said, “the report has yet to be confirmed, and that is for the courts to do".

Pinochet opponents reacted angrily to the reports.

“This gentleman should be stripped of the honorary rank he gave to himself,” said Senetaor Camilo Escalona, president of Bachelet’s Socialist Party, referring to the rank of captain general of the army Pinochet assumed while in power – a rank used before only by Bernardo O’Higgins, Chile’s top independence hero.

In addition to the tax evasion charges, Pinochet is charged with human rights abuses relating to his 1973-1990 regime. His immunity as a former president has been lifted in two other cases, clearing the way for more charges.

No case against Pinochet has reached the sentencing stage, however, as the courts have dropped the charges on health grounds. Pinochet suffers from a mild dementia resulting from several strokes. He also has diabetes, arthritis and requires a pacemaker.

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