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Chile opens Pinochet will; no clues to wealth

Chilean officials hoping for a glimpse at the suspected fortune of former dictator Augusto Pinochet opened his sealed will on Wednesday. But the document revealed nothing about his wealth.

The late dictator's will, which had been prepared in 2000, had remained under seal and Pinochet's family wanted it to stay that way. The opening was requested by Chile's Defense Council of the State, which wants to recover funds from Pinochet's estate.

A notary in charge of the will's opening told reporters at a Santiago court Wednesday that the former strongman left 62.5 percent of his estate to his widow and the rest was divided among his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But there was no description of the size or whereabouts of his holdings.

"The will makes reference to a distribution of goods without specifying anything registered under the name of Augusto Pinochet," said notary Humberto Quezada.

Gen. Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990 and then was a "senator for life." He died under house arrest, without ever being tried on charges of illegal enrichment and human rights violations. An academic study ordered by Chile's Supreme Court determined that the dictator accumulated $21 million before he died and that only $3 million of it was justified by his military salary.

Another will, prepared shortly before his death in 2006 at age 91, was unsealed by a court in late April, but it only changed the name of the estate's executor.

Chile remains highly polarized over the rule of the strongman who once compared himself to the best Roman emperors. Even the mere mention of his name makes many Chileans cringe with the memories of him shutting down Congress, outlawing political parties and sending thousands of dissidents into exile, while his police tortured and killed thousands more.

To his loyalists, though, Pinochet is the fatherly figure who oversaw Chile's growth into economic prosperity and kept it from becoming a failed socialist state.

Pinochet lost many close allies, who had praised his austere image, after allegations about his hidden wealth were revealed in 2004 by a U.S Senate committee investigating money laundering by the Riggs Bank of Washington. Pinochet accounts were later discovered in Europe and the Caribbean.

Pinochet and his family said that his money came from savings, donations and good investments. But the study by Universidad de Chile said that $17.86 million was unjustified by his military salary and that its origins were unknown. In the years since his death, most of those millions have not been found.

Pinochet's family has been able to temporarily lift the embargo on some of his goods to pay back taxes to the government. State attorney Carlos Mackenney said Wednesday that the government is interested in recovering money from his estate to pay taxes and compensation.

The late dictator's known wealth, including real estate, cars and several million dollars in bank accounts, remains embargoed. It includes a weekend country house in El Melocoton (The Peach), luxury apartments in the exclusive coastal town of Renaca and the nearby port of Valparaiso, his home in a wealthy neighborhood of Santiago, several cars, $2.6 million deposited in a local bank and $280,000 saved at BankBoston.

Chile's government estimates that 3,095 people were killed during Pinochet's rule.