On Feb. 8, a court in Santiago opened the will of Dictator Augusto Pinochet’s wife in proceedings related to a government lawsuit. The government argues that Pinochet’s heirs should be ordered to pay the Treasury close to US$16 million. The investigation continues.
On Feb. 8, Chile’s State Defense Council (CDE) attended a court hearing in Santiago during which Lucía Hiriart’s will was opened. Hiriart was Dictator Augusto Pinochet’s wife, and the CDE had requested the procedure in pursuit of a claim against Pinochet’s heirs.
After Chile’s Supreme Court entered judgment in a case in 2018 (the so-called “Riggs case”) convicting three of Pinochet’s military officers for misappropriation of public funds, the CDE filed a lawsuit asking the former general’s heirs to pay the Treasury nearly US$16 million, corresponding to money illicitly obtained by him. Although it was never established that his heirs had participated in the illegal acts, the heirs would be the recipients of an economic windfall that resulted from criminal conduct, according to the CDE’s statement.
Pursuing illicit assets
The will, stored in a vault of the Bank of Chile, was notarized on September 3, 2002, two years before legal actions in the United States uncovered multimillion-dollar accounts that Pinochet had at Riggs Bank in the U.S. The judgment in the Riggs case sparked an investigation by the Chilean government, headed by then-minister Sergio Muñoz, who discovered, among other things, that the dictator used the alias of Daniel López at Riggs Bank.
With the opening of Hiriart’s will, the CDE aims to uncover unknown assets that can be seized to restore some of the millions misappropriated by the dictator that were kept at Riggs Bank. After a prior investigation, the court observed that “there was more than sufficient evidence” that Pinochet “engaged in conduct that involved the theft of public funds” and, accordingly, “it was reasonably possible to conclude” that the assets could be regarded as “the effects or proceeds of the perpetration of their criminal conduct committed at the expense of the national treasury,” the CDE noted.
The judgment in the Riggs case decreed the freezing of the assets in the name of the former general or of one of his companies, the majority offshore and with so-called bearer shares, that mask ownership. However, despite proving the total amount of the damage, nearly US$18 million, the Supreme Court ruled that the additional penalty of confiscation could only be imposed on that part of the property related to the intervention of the convicted persons,” the CDE added.
CDE’s lawyer, María Eliana Ricke, who attended the will’s opening, commented: “All this, in the context of the lawsuit filed against the heirs of the former general for the benefit of others’ pain regarding the monies that he defrauded. That was the diligence carried out today before the [court],” she concluded.
Hiriart was a key figure in Pinochet’s life. She greatly influenced him to join the coup that overthrew the government of President Salvador Allende in September 1973. With the restoration of democracy, Hiriart remained at the center of scandals linked to how his family accumulated wealth during the years when he held absolute power.
Carmen Critelli is an intern at Chile Today. She has recently completed her bachelor’s degree in European Studies from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. During her studies and journalistic experience, she specialised in migration/immigration issues, poverty and sustainability.