Former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet's oldest daughter could meet with U.S. asylum officers as early as Thursday after arriving in the country and reportedly seeking asylum in the United States, officials said. Lucia Pinochet was detained Wednesday on an outstanding arrest warrant in Chile in connection with an investigation of tax charges after arriving at Washington's Dulles International Airport, U.S. customs officials said.
Chilean Interior Minister Francisco Vidal said U.S. Ambassador Craig Kelly had informed his government that she has requested asylum in the United States. A State Department official confirmed the request and said she will be interviewed by an asylum officer as early as Thursday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not formally authorized to disclose the information. Lucia Pinochet has been indicted by a Chilean judge on tax evasion and false passport charges, Chilean and U.S. officials said.
She was taken into custody after she got off a plane from Argentina that landed at Dulles but was not considered to be under arrest. "We are interviewing her," said Suzanne Trevino, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Under normal procedures, a person who tries to enter the U.S. and is detained by customs is entitled to an admissibility interview. "If they are not going to be admitted into the U.S., then they would be put on a flight back to the country that they originated in," Trevino said.
In Santiago, the Chilean capital, Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker said the U.S. government told Chile on Wednesday that Pinochet was being transferred to an immigration service detention center and that a decision could be made on her request for asylum within three days. "We are absolutely confident that it will be rejected," Walker said.
Pinochet "was the target of an international arrest warrant issued by a Chilean judge," said Chilean presidential spokesman Osvaldo Puccio. Rodrigo Garcia Pinochet, Lucia Pinochet's son, sent a letter from his mother to the Santiago newspaper La Segunda in which she said she is "convinced that in this case they are not trying to determine the source of my father's funds, but some people aim at defaming each and every member of my family."
She said she tried to talk to the judge in the case before traveling, but that he would not meet with her. "As I never received an answer to my request for a meeting and I was never formally notified of the measures the judge would take, I traveled on Jan. 22nd," she wrote. "Once I get back, I will be able to clarify any doubts."
The letter mentioned no date for her return. In the letter, Pinochet denied any wrongdoing. Calling her assets modest, she said she earned them "with my personal effort and dedication, always acting in a correct manner."
Lucia Pinochet and several members of her family are implicated in a scandal involving the now-defunct Riggs Bank of Washington. The bank provided diplomatic banking services for decades until a Senate investigation found irregularities in its operations.
Congressional investigators alleged that Gen. Pinochet, 90, worked with bank managers to set up phony offshore companies to hide the existence of about $8 million at the bank. He faces charges in Chile for financial crimes and human rights abuses committed during his 17-year rule, from 1973 to 1990.
A judicial investigation in Chile determined that Gen. Pinochet had deposited as much as $28 million in accounts in several countries. Last year, Gen. Pinochet issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and claiming his advisers had paid all of his outstanding taxes.
Also indicted in the case were Pinochet's wife, also named Lucia, and his adult children Veronica, Jacqueline and Marco Antonio. Charges were also filed against Marco Antonio's wife and a lawyer and a secretary for Pinochet. They are all free on bail, reports the AP. N.U.
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