SANTIAGO – Lucia Hiriart, the widow of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, on Wednesday testified for two hours before a judge investigating her alleged appropriation of public lands and diversion of funds from a foundation she heads, judicial officials reported.
The questioning was conducted at Hiriart’s home and handled by Judge Guillermo de la Barra, with the Santiago Appeals Court, who since April has been investigating the case involving the CEMA Chile foundation.
After Pinochet led his September 1973 coup, his wife became the head of CEMA Chile and amended the foundation’s statutes to enable her to remain as its director “in perpetuity.”
During the 1973-1990 dictatorship, a total of 135 properties and plots of public land were transferred to the foundation, some of which were subsequently sold by Hiriart and the entity’s other leaders.
Accompanying Hiriart during her questioning were her younger son, Marco Antonio Pinochet, attorney Pablo Rodriguez and her main physician, given that recently she has experienced health problems that resulted in her being admitted to the military hospital in Santiago three times this past year.
De la Barra decided to question Hiriart after assembling evidence pointing to alleged acts of unauthorized appropriation of properties and the diversion of some 12 billion pesos ($18 million) in CEMA Chile funds by relatives and close associates of Pinochet.
The investigation is focusing mainly on the sale of some of the properties and public lands transferred to CEMA Chile for its charitable activities and also on $50,000 removed from the foundation’s treasury to pay for expenses related to Pinochet’s detention in London.
The dictator spent 17 months under detention in London from October 1998 to March 2000 at the request of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who was seeking his extradition and prosecution for crimes against humanity.
After a lengthy court battle that Pinochet lost, the British government opted to return him to Chile “for humanitarian reasons.”
In August, Hiriart resigned from CEMA Chile when the transfer of funds from the institution to pay for her husband’s detention expenses was revealed.