Alexa

Lucia Pinochet seeks asylum in U.S.

United States says it will make decision within three days

Lucia Pinochet seeks asylum in U.S.
A corruption case involving former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet took a bizarre twist when one of his daughters asked Wednesday for political asylum in the United States and was taken into custody at a Washington airport just days after a Chilean judge indicted her and several members of her family on tax evasion charges.

Lucia Pinochet, 60, was denied entry into the United States after the State Department, acting on a tip by Chilean authorities, decided to revoke her U.S. visa just hours before her flight from Argentina landed at Washington Dulles International Airport. She then requested asylum and was taken into custody by customs officials because of an outstanding arrest warrant in Chile, officials said.

Her asylum request could turn into a diplomatic headache for Chile and the United States because she must show credible fear of being persecuted in Chile, one of Latin America's most stable democracies and, like Washington, a supporter of free-market policy.

Chilean Interior Minister Francisco Vidal said the asylum request would only be granted when "there is no rule of law, no due process."

The daughter's arrival was the latest reminder of how the once powerful and feared dictator has fallen out of grace in Chile, where even his most ardent supporters turned against him after U.S. Senate investigators in 2004 found US$28 million in secret U.S. and other bank accounts.

"It's not only justice, it's poetic justice," said Peter Kornbluh, an analyst with the National Security Archive, an independent research center at George Washington University. "The corruption scandal broke the back of his supporters."

More than 3,000 political opponents were killed and many more exiled during Pinochet's 17-year rule, which ended in 1990, and the aged general now faces multiple human rights investigations in addition to charges of evading taxes on the hidden money.

On Monday, a judge in Chile for the first time charged Pinochet's wife, four of his five children and a son-in-law with tax evasion. Five of the family members were briefly detained and then freed on bail, but Lucia Pinochet had apparently already left for neighboring Argentina.

A statement by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said she arrived at Dulles at 7 a.m. (local time). She spent much of the day being questioned by authorities. The Chilean Embassy sent a diplomat to meet with her but she refused to meet him, officials said.

The Santiago, Chile, daily La Segunda on Monday published a letter from Lucia Pinochet alleging the government was using the court cases to "tarnish and undermine" her family.

Chilean Judge Carlos Cerda has accused Lucia Pinochet of owing US$846,000 in two years' worth of back taxes, a prosecution lawyer, Carmen Hertz, said in a phone interview.

Lucia Pinochet held a valid tourist visa, but U.S. regulations say it could be quickly revoked if officials suspect she might be trying to evade Chilean justice.