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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 21:20 GMT
Pinochet asset hunt prompts raid
General Augusto Pinochet
Gen Pinochet is under house arrest at his country home
Officials have searched the offices of Chile's former military ruler Gen Augusto Pinochet as part of inquiries into his US bank accounts.

Judge Sergio Munoz, investigating the origins of an estimated $8 million, seized documents and quizzed staff.

Gen Pinochet's lawyer said the search was "illegal and unconstitutional".

Gen Pinochet, 89, was placed under house arrest on Wednesday by another judge investigating his alleged role in murders and kidnappings while in power.

October 1998: Police in UK arrest Pinochet on Spanish warrant; long legal battle over fitness for trial
March 2000: Deemed unfit for trial, returns home. Days later effort begins to try him in Chile
August 2000: Supreme Court strips his immunity. Later declared fit to stand trial
July 2001: Charges suspended and later dropped on grounds of health
May 2004: Court strips Pinochet of immunity from prosecution over fresh charges
Dec 2004: Chilean judge indicts Pinochet
Jan 2005: Court backs Pinochet murder trial, saying he is fit to stand trial

Judge Munoz arrived at Gen Pinochet's Santiago offices on Thursday morning with eight detectives.

The team searched the offices and interviewed staff, including Monica Ananias, Gen Pinochet's private secretary.

A US Senate investigation discovered at least $8 million held in Gen Pinochet's name in accounts held at Riggs Bank in the US.

'Immunity not respected'

His lawyer, Pablo Rodriguez, insisted that the former military ruler was innocent of any wrongdoing, calling him "honest".

"Gen Pinochet is a person protected by an immunity that has not been respected," Mr Rodriguez added, referring to the general's immunity from prosecution that was lifted last week.

The move means that Gen Pinochet can now be tried on charges relating to the murder of one Chilean and the disappearance of nine others.

A fresh application to lift the general's immunity must be made for every investigation.

Gen Pinochet, who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, faces charges relating to his alleged involvement in Operation Condor, a joint campaign by South American military governments in the 1970s to eliminate left-wing opponents.

He was recently ruled fit to stand trial, and was placed under house arrest at his ranch west of Santiago.

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