Pinochet family cleared of embezzlement charges

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SANTIAGO, Oct 27 (Reuters) The widow and four of the children of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet were cleared of embezzling millions of dollars of public funds during his 1973-1990 rule.

An appeals court in the capital Santiago said there was no evidence to suggest Pinochet's widow Lucia Hiriart and four of their five children were aware of the alleged embezzlement.

The ruling overturned a decision earlier this month by a Supreme Court judge who ordered the detention of the Pinochet family as part of the embezzlement investigation.

The late dictator's middle-aged children were arrested on October 4 and spent two nights in jail before being released on bail.

Responding to yesterday's ruling, Pinochet's eldest daughter Lucia Pinochet said: ''I think justice has prevailed.

''Everyone knows that if you're not a public official, you can't be tried for embezzlement of public funds,'' she told Chilean state television.

Prosecutors said they would appeal.

Even if that appeal is unsuccessful, the Pinochet family still will face several other charges of financial impropriety.

Friday's ruling did not apply to Pinochet's eldest son Augusto, who is also accused of embezzlement as part of the same case. He decided not to appeal although he maintains his innocence.

Pinochet, the most notorious of the military leaders who dominated South America through much of the Cold War, died last December aged 91 without ever being brought to trial.

The corruption charges tarnished his image in his latter years, even among those who supported him politically.

More than 3,000 people died in political violence during his dictatorship. Some 28,000 people were tortured and hundreds of thousands of Chileans went into exile.

REUTERS SZ PM0505

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