By Robert Stevens:
UK helped protect wealth of former Chilean dictator Pinochet
3 September 2009
Journalist Hugh O’Shaughnessy has written extensively on Latin American affairs for more than 40 years and is the author of a number of books on Latin America, including Pinochet: The Politics of Torture, published in 1999. Writing in the Independent on August 23, he drew on a recent report issued by the Chilean police task force, Brilac.
Brilac charges heavy British involvement in enabling Pinochet to conceal the whereabouts of his wealth. Estimated to be as much as £1 billion, this was largely obtained through Pinochet’s role as an arms procurer. He enjoyed the closest, secretive relations with major British arms corporations over decades.
Pinochet died in December 2006 in Chile, after having avoided an extradition order to Spain applied for while he was receiving medical treatment in Britain in October 1998. He was initially arrested on October 17 under a Spanish provisional warrant for the murders of Spanish citizens in Chile while he was president. On October 22, he was again arrested under a second provisional arrest warrant from the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón. The Garzón warrant charged Pinochet with systematic torture, murder, illegal detention and forced disappearances.
For the following 16 months, Pinochet was kept under house arrest in Britain in what was described by one newspaper as the “most comfortable of detention facilities” at a detached house on the leafy Wentworth estate in Surrey. After a protracted legal case, he was released in March 2000 by British Home Secretary Jack Straw, who ruled that Pinochet was unfit to stand trial on “medical grounds.”
Just hours later, Pinochet left the UK via a Royal Air Force base and flew back to Chile.
Millions of people internationally wanted to see Pinochet finally brought to justice for his crimes. Straw, in explaining his decision, acknowledged that he had received some 70,000 letters and emails from around the globe, the vast majority demanding that he allow extradition to proceed.
Thousands were killed by Pinochet’s police and military forces in the 1973 coup that brought him to power. The coup overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Salvador Allende’s Socialist Party. The military regime proceeded to dissolve congress and banned political parties and trade unions.
Following the coup, the Pinochet regime began a reign of terror in which tens of thousands of his left-wing opponents in the Socialist Party, Communist Party and other left groups, as well as intellectuals, workers and peasants, were rounded up, held in concentration camps and tortured. An unknown number were killed. According to one report produced in 1991, 31,947 people were tortured at the hands of the Pinochet police state.
More than 3,000 people are officially admitted to have been killed or “disappeared” in the course of his 17-year rule, before he handed over power to a civilian government in 1990. Most credible estimates put the number killed at anywhere between three and ten times the official count.
In his article, “Pinochet’s Lost Millions: the UK Connection,” O’Shaughnessy writes: “Though the Pinochet family protects the details of its wealth with the help of bankers and advisers from Britain and other countries, the pile of assets in cash, gold, government bonds and shares controlled by the family of the late dictator is now believed to amount to as much as £1billion.
“The report by Brilac, the Chilean police task force, says that the freeze on the dictator’s funds issued in 1998 by the Spanish investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzón, who was seeking the ex-dictator’s extradition to Spain on charges of torture and murder, was in effect ignored by the financial sector in Britain, despite the fact that Britain was under an obligation to enforce it.”
O’Shaughnessy notes that the complex operation to cover up the millions amassed by Pinochet through arms and drugs dealing “took place in British colonies which were ultimately controlled by Whitehall.”
The Pinochet fortune was hidden in a number of offshore locations stretching from “Gibraltar, the Caribbean tax havens of the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands (BVI), to former colonies such as the Bahamas and Hong Kong.
“With help from within the British finance industry, offshore bank accounts were set up at the same time as companies with names such as Abanda Finance, Althorp Investment Trust, Ashburton, Belview International, Sociedad de Inversiones Belview, Cornwall Overseas, Eastview Finance, GLP, and Tasker Investments,” O’Shaughnessy continues.