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Bush Promises Investigation into Pinochet Link with US Bank - 2004-07-19

President Bush says the United States is looking into the link between a private Washington, D.C.-based bank and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. There are allegations Riggs Bank helped him hide his assets.

President Bush is promising a full investigation of the allegations against Riggs Bank.

Speaking to reporters after talks at the White House with Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, Mr. Bush promised the truth will come out. "You're seeing a transparent society dealing with allegations and the Riggs Bank is being fully investigated, and they'll be investigated in a very open way," he said.

President Bush said the Chilean leader raised the issue during their talks. He said the United States shares Chile's concern. "He wants to know the truth," he said. "And I appreciate that, and we'll make sure that people do know the truth. And that's what you're seeing. You're beginning to see the process of truth-finding."

The allegations have tarnished the reputation of Riggs Bank. Congressional investigators say they have evidence of a series of questionable transactions between the bank and Augusto Pinochet. Riggs was recently was hit with a $25 million fine for lacking an effective program to halt money laundering, and there are allegations of wrongdoings involving other countries as well.

Despite the controversy, the Chilean and American leaders stressed overall relations between their two governments remain strong. Both point with pride to their new free trade agreement, which went into effect seven months ago.

President Lagos said the impact has been positive. "Our free trade agreement has been moving in the right direction. And I am extremely happy to see that," he said.

They also discussed promoting democracy in the Americas, particularly in Haiti and Venezuela. President Bush said Chile's response to the situation in Haiti was rapid and important, and he praised Chile's offer to monitor the August 15th recall referendum that could decide the fate of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"Chile plays a very important role in our neighborhood, and the referendum in Venezuela is an important referendum. And the referendum must be conducted in an honest and open way," he said.

The U.S. and Chilean leaders are expected to meet next in November, when Chile hosts the annual economic summit of Pacific rim countries.