A Chilean judge has closed a nine-year investigation into late dictator Augusto Pinochet's secret bank accounts abroad, without bringing charges against any member of the former president's family.

Judge Manuel Valderrama said he had exhausted all leads but had not determined the source of the more than $21 million placed in the Riggs Bank in Washington, DC and other institutions.

Pinochet's five children and his wife Lucia Hiriart initially had been accused of embezzlement, but none were charged with any crime. The closure of the probe triggered competing claims from plaintiffs and Pinochet's family.

"They investigated for nine long years. Information was requested from innumerable entities which provided them and finally it ends in nothing," Pinochet's grandson, Rodrigo Garcia Pinochet, told AFP.

"My grandfather was accused of stealing millions of dollars. They talked of arms trafficking, of gold ingots, and in the end it amounted to nothing. But the discredit to his name and that of his family will be very difficult to clean," he said.

Over the course of the investigation, however, the judge brought charges against six former military officers alleged to have handled the money

Two former generals -- Jorge Ballerino and Ramon Castro -- were accused of opening a secret account at the Riggs Bank for Pinochet under the pseudonym "Daniel Lopez."

Four other officers who served as private secretary to Pinochet were accused of transferring the funds, opening and closing accounts and hiding their existence.

"There was a lack of interest in following through in this case which had many rough spots that were not cleared up," Alfonso Insunza, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

"We will never know what was the reality of Pinochet's illicit enrichment," said another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Carmen Hertz.

The accounts in the Riggs Bank were discovered in 2004 in the course of a US Senate investigation into terrorism financing in the wake of the September 11 attacks three years earlier.

The Chilean investigation determined that nearly 100 accounts were open, but was unable to establish the origin of $17 million of the $21 million deposited.

It was also unable to prove that the funds came from kickbacks for the sale of weapons or from the diversion of public monies.

Pinochet's family argues that the money -- which was embargoed -- were the life savings of a frugal man who invested well with the help of advisers.

"Pinochet engaged in tax fraud. He embezzled public funds and funds reserved for the presidency and that was shown by the judicial investigation," Hertz responded.

The plaintiffs have 15 days to appeal the judge's decision.

...,/.,