Chile Hit with Massive Campaign Corruption Scandal

By: Max Radwin - Apr 10, 2016, 7:58 pm
Corruption in Chile: The campaigns of both President Michelle Bachelet and former President Sebastián Piñera are under investigation. (Wikimedia)
The campaigns of both President Michelle Bachelet and former President Sebastián Piñera are under investigation. (Wikimedia)

Chile has joined Brazil and Venezuela among Latin American countries making headlines recently for political scandal.

Accusations and charges have been mounting over the last year against high-profile politicians, their assistants and family members for accepting campaign bribes between 2009 and 2013.

Among those being investigated are President Michelle Bachelet, as well as two former presidents: Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014) and Eduardo Frei (1994-2000).

Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile (SQM) — which deals in fertilizer and mining and is one of the largest providers of lithium in the world — is the company accused of giving out those bribes, according prosecutors who filed charges last week. Its chairman and director, Julio Ponce Lerou, is the son-in-law of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Lerou’s company allowed politicians to submit invoices for work that was never done, in what Bloomberg described as an “equal opportunity briber without concern for ideology.”

The scandal echoes the one unraveling in Brazil, though on a smaller scale, where for years the ruling Workers Party (PT) and opposition politicians accepted massive bribes from contractors of the state-run oil giant Petrobras.

[adrotate group=”7″]Tax authorities are investigating the inner circles of Piñera and his Economy Minister Pablo Longueira, though they have not been officially charged.

Distrust in Ruling Party Grows

But perhaps the largest name on the list is President Michelle Bachelet, who is simultaneously trying to weather a different political scandal in which her son Sebastián Dávalos Bachelet and her daughter-in-law Natalia Compagnon allegedly used insider information to complete a US$10 million land contract in 2013.

In regards to accepting bribes from SQM, Bachelet told CNN Español last month that, “there is no one close to me that has received bribes.”

Bachelet’s approval rating is at an all-time low according to survey firm GfK Adimark — having fallen below 25 percent in February. Her approval rating comes in response to a dip in economic productivity as well as the land-contract scandal with her son, some experts said, and is expected to decline even more should the bribery accusations be proven true.

Former President Eduardo Frei and 2013 presidential candidate Marcos Enriquez-Ominami are also being investigated, though they have not been charged.

El País reported last month that 144 other people — family members, secretaries, fundraisers and, in some cases, retired politicians — filed false documents in SQM’s name “without any supporting documents.” Twenty-one people have been charged since January of last year, according to Bloomberg, and “dozens more” are still under investigation.

Bloomberg also reported that most politicians involved in the scandal “denied taking funds” or said they were “unaware of the actions of their assistants or fundraisers.”

Sources: Bloomberg, El País.

Max Radwin Max Radwin

Max is an editor with PanAm Post. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 2015 with a Major in English Literature and a minor in Spanish Language. He has written for Newsday, Al Jazeera and The Miami Herald, among others.