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Chile begins corruption probe against president

October 8, 2021

President Sebastian Pinera said he found "it difficult to understand" why the public prosecutor wanted to investigate claims of wrongdoing in the sale of a mining company via a family-owned firm.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has denied any wrongdoingImage: Esteban Felix/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Chile opened an investigation into President Sebastian Pinera on Friday for potential financial irregularities relating to the sale of a mining company through a firm owned by his children.

The sale of Dominga in 2010, which was highlighted in the Pandora Papers leak, involved a firm "linked to the family of President Pinera," said Marta Herrera, head of the anti-corruption unit in the public prosecutor's office.

"The national prosecutor has decided to open a criminal investigation regarding the facts associated with the Pandora Papers," Herrera said.

Pinera responded to the investigation by saying "it is difficult to understand" the decision of the prosecutor's office because the disclosed facts were already "investigated" and "dismissed" in 2017. 

'Bribery and tax crimes'

On Monday, Pinera said there was no conflict of interest in the deal, which took place during his first stint as Chilean president.

But Attorney General Jorge Herrera said the public prosecutor's office had initiated an investigation because of the possibility that the transaction involved "bribery and tax crimes."

Herrera said convictions for such offenses would mean a five-year prison term.

An investigation carried out by two Chilean media outlets, CIPER and LaBot — both of which are part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which produced the Pandora Papers — reported that Dominga was sold in a $152 million (€131 million) deal to a friend of Pinera's, businessman Carlos Alberto Delano. The transaction was conducted in the British Virgin Islands, a group of islands synonymous with being a tax haven.

Environmental protection ignored

The investigation found that the payment was scheduled to be staggered over three installments with a clause that stated the final portion was dependent on "not establishing an area of environmental protection in the area of the mining company's operations, as environmentalists are demanding."

The investigation suggested that the Pinera government did not create a protected area around the site of mine in question.

The Pandora Papers looked into almost 12 million documents that the ICIJ said revealed hidden wealth, tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering, by some of the world's richest and most powerful people.

jsi/msh (AFP, EFE)