Riggs case closed – US$1.6 million will be seized from Pinochet family

SANTIAGO – After grinding years, the Riggs case linked to the embezzlement investigation of former dictator Augusto Pinochet closed down for good. The Supreme Court ordered the Pinochet family to return part of their fortune. Investigators said that the total amount embezzled was up to US$17.8 million, but the majority stems from crimes that are already prescript.

Closing the Riggs case once and for all, Chile’s Supreme Court ordered the Pinochet family to return some of the money it inherited from the former dictator. The case refers to an investigation regarding the origin of Pinochet’s wealth, which he stashed away in Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank and left to his family.

Though the fortune is estimated at around US$21.3 million, of which US$17.8 million were obtained wrongfully, the Supreme Court ordered the confiscation of just US$1.6 million. The rest of the money was out of the justice system’s reach, due to the long time the investigation took.

The US$1.6 million the Pinochets have to return were stolen from Chile’s treasury during the dictatorship. High-ranking soldiers Gabriel Vergara, Juan McLean, and Eugenio Castillo, were sentenced to four years in prison, because, the court says, “They participated in the illegal money withdrawal in favor of Pinochet or his family, damaging the public treasury.”

The USA investigation

In 2004, a report by a subcommittee of the US Senate was released in relation to the Patriot Act, which was created to fight terrorism. Among the seized accounts of various ex-dictators, Augusto Pinochet’s secret accounts – 125 in total – also appeared a bit later. All his accounts were loaded with around US$21 million. The illegal assets were discovered during a money laundering probe in the US, after in 2005, Riggs Bank was bought by PNC Financial Services Group, headquartered in Pittsburgh.

In 2004, Chilean lawyers Carmen Hertz and Alfonso Insunza lodged a citizens complaint for the misappropriation of public funds, which started the Riggs case.

When the court opened the investigation, it seized the money from the Riggs accounts and other Pinochet assets. But in 2017, arguing for prescription, a judge ordered the restitution of US$ 6 million to the family. In addition, the family got back 23 properties, vehicles, and different bank documents. The National Defense Council of the State appealed the decision, and the restitution of those properties was stopped. However, the family will get back around US$3.2 million after last Friday’s sentence.

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