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Judge orders Pinochet family freed
Former Chilean leader's widow and children were arrested on embezzlement charges.
Last Modified: 05 Oct 2007 22:31 GMT

Reaction to the arrests of Pinochet's family and associates brought a mixed response [AFP] 

A Chilean judge has ordered the release of the widow and five children of Augusto Pinochet, the former military leader, a day after they were arrested on charges of embezzling millions of dollars.

Judge Carlos Cerda on Friday granted Lucia Hiriart, 87, her five children and several other detainees supervised release from jail on Friday.
The release order includes 22 of the 23 people linked to the case who were arrested on Thursday.
 
Monica Ananias, Pinochet's former personal secretary, Guillermo Garin, his ex-spokesman and Gustavo Collao, his lawyer, were amomg those released.
Cerda is in charge of a case in which Pinochet allegedly hid more than $25m with the help of the Washington-based Riggs bank.
 
The case came to light in 2004 when a US senate investigation found hundreds of accounts in the name of Pinochet and his relatives at the bank.

'Decisive judiciary'

Al Jazeera's South American correspondent said: "Many thought that once Pinochet was dead, the case would be dropped, but it's actually turning out to be one of these 'better late than never' stories.
 
"We are seeing a much more decisive judiciary."
 
Hiriart had been transferred to a Santiago military hospital on Thursday after suffering a rise in blood pressure and requested that she remain under arrest there.

Her lawyers said her illness was caused by the shock of being placed under arrest.
 
Those charged on Thursday included at least six retired army generals - Jorge Ballerino, Guillermo Garin, Juan Romero, Hector Letelier, Sergio Moreno and Ramon Castro.
 
Judge Carlos Cerda said he had ordered the arrests because of "solid indications that they had participated in the misuse of fiscal funds" during Pinochet's 1973 to 1990 rule.

Under Chilean law, suspects can be kept in prison while an investigation is under way, even if they have not been found guilty of any crime.
 
Mixed reactions
 
Reaction to the arrests varied widely, reflecting the deep divisions Pinochet still inspires almost 10 months after he died last December at age 91 while under indictment on human rights and corruption charges.

In the lower house of congress, pro-government legislators celebrated by singing the national anthem.
 
Pinochet died last December while
under house arrest
But a group of about 20 people, some carrying photographs and even small statues of Pinochet, gathered at the military hospital chanting slogans in support of him and his widow.
 
Cristian Labbe, a retired army colonel, who was a close aide to Pinochet and visited Hiriart at the hospital, called the indictments "cruel" and "a blow to efforts for reconciliation among Chileans".
 
Angelica Cristia, conservative congresswoman, suggested a political motivation for the arrests, saying: "It's curious that something like this happens right at a time when we hear a new opinion poll showing government approval continues to drop."
 
Cerda's ruling is investigating the multimillion-dollar accounts that Pinochet controlled at the Riggs Bank in Washington and other foreign banks.
 
According to court papers, some of those accounts may have been fed with funds from the so-called Military House, an office that aided Pinochet's military activities during the dictatorship. Pinochet remained an army commander during his long rule.
 
Cerda estimated that some $7.9 million were illegally diverted from the Military House.
 
Pinochet and his associates steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, insisting the sources of the bank accounts were legitimate savings and investments, as well as donations.
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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