SANTIAGO, Chile, Oct 26 (Reuters) Chile's government has asked a special prosecutor to investigate reports that former dictator Augusto Pinochet, already facing charges related to secret bank accounts, hid about nine tons of gold in a Hong Kong bank.
Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley said yesterday that the information was received several days ago and had been passed on to the State Defense Council, a military-civilian judicial team prosecuting Pinochet for other economic crimes.
No further information was available about the alleged Pinochet gold stash, but El Mercurio newspaper reported it was being held in the ex-dictator's name in Hong Kong warehouses of HSBC Bank PLC.
If confirmed, the find could raise powerful new suspicions about the wealth Pinochet accumulated over his 17-year dictatorship and further turn public opinion against him.
''If this information is confirmed, it would be grave indeed,'' Chile Foreign Minister Alejandro Foxley said on national radio yesterday.
It was not clear how the information was relayed to Chile other than that it came through the foreign ministry.
''At this point it is in the hands of the justice system to investigate this,'' Defense Minister Vivianne Blanlot said.
Pinochet took power in a 1973 military coup that toppled Salvador Allende and he has been accused of responsibility in the deaths of as many as 3,000 Chileans during his 1973-1990 rule.
He was charged last year with evading taxes on an estimated 27 million dollars hidden in more than 100 bank accounts outside of Chile.
''I can say with absolute certainty that this information is completely and absolutely false,'' said Pablo Rodriguez, Pinochet's long-time lawyer.
Pinochet, 90, is no longer active in Chilean politics, but remains in the public eye because of the string of court cases against him.
His defense lawyers have argued he is unfit to stand trial for health reasons.
''I can tell you with absolute certainty that general Pinochet has never had a gram of gold in any foreign account,'' Rodriguez added.
Reuters DKS VP0445