Pinochet loses legal immunity

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The Independent US

Chile's Supreme Court has voted to strip former president Augusto Pinochet of immunity from prosecution, allowing him to be tried on corruption charges for his once-secret multimillion dollar overseas bank accounts.

The ruling will be issued on Monday after all the justices have signed it, an official at the court's press office said. The decision adds to General Pinochet's legal problems, which include indictments for human rights abuses and tax evasion using false passports to open bank accounts during his 1973-90 dictatorship in Chile.

The decision adds to Pinochet's legal problems, which include indictments for human rights abuses and tax evasion using false passports to open bank accounts during his 1973-90 dictatorship. The former dictator also had his immunity lifted in these cases; according to Chilean law, immunity must be lifted separately for each indictment.

Judge Carlos Cerda said he found evidence that the 90-year-old former ruler used $2 million in government funds to benefit himself and his family, including his older son, also named Augusto, who was living in the United States in the 1980s.

In the past, Pinochet's lawyers have insisted the money came from savings, investments and donations.

And if the aging Pinochet is tried on corruption charges, defense attorney Pablo Rodriguez said he would prove that as president, Pinochet could use government funds as he saw fit.

Once Friday's decision becomes official, Cerda can question and indict Pinochet. The judge was appointed to investigate the source of Pinochet's bank accounts in the United States and other countries, estimated at $28 million. The accounts were disclosed by a US Senate Committee investigating the Riggs Bank of Washington in 2004.

Pinochet has also faced indictments for human rights abuses, but all but one of those charges were dropped by the courts, citing health problems that include mild dementia, diabetes, arthritis and the use of a pacemaker.

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