The Chilean National Prosecutor’s Office announced on Friday the start of a criminal investigation for the alleged bribery, bribery and tax crimes derived from the sale and purchase of a mining project owned by the family of President Sebastián Piñera, which was conditioned to the area for its development was not intervened environmentally.
The controversial sale was signed in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands on December 10, 2010, nine months after Piñera began his first presidential term (2010-2014).
The director of the Anticorruption Unit, Marta Herrera, said that the decision was adopted after her department analyzed the recent background revealed by an international journalistic investigation, known as the Pandora Papers, which indicates that the last payment of the voucher, for 10 million dollars, “was conditioned to the fact that there were no changes in the environmental regulations that would hinder the development of the project.”
The international investigation revealed the businesses in tax havens of hundreds of authorities, former authorities, politicians, athletes and artists, among others.
In August 2010, shortly after taking office, Piñera announced the relocation of a coal-fired thermoelectric plant in Barrancones, which was already authorized to be built. He explained that he achieved the change after talking directly with his owners and that he did it to move her away from the Humboldt Penguin National Reserve, in the north.
However, at that time it was not known that his family was about to sign the sale of the Dominga project, which would be built in La Higuera, the same commune from which he displaced the thermoelectric plant. Years later, an investigative commission of deputies concluded that it could be presumed that Piñera “sought to benefit Dominga mining company, in August 2010, when … bypassing environmental institutions,” Barrancones canceled.
The buyer of Dominga – the mining and port project in question – was a businessman friend of Piñera, who seeks to install it some 30 kilometers from the marine reserve.
For the same cause, Piñera faces an ongoing investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and a constitutional accusation that will be formalized by a group of opposition deputies.
A statement from the Presidency of the Republic said on Friday afternoon that the facts that the Public Ministry will investigate are “res judicata” and reiterated that Piñera separated himself in 2009 from the administration of family assets.
At dusk, Piñera reiterated what was indicated by the statement. “As the president of Chile, I have never, never carried out any action or carried out any management carried out with Dominga mining company,” he said. “These and other unjust accusations are very painful not only for me, but especially for my family.”
Piñera affirmed earlier this week that the facts contained in the journalistic investigation were known, that they were investigated by a prosecutor in 2017 and that he was definitively dismissed. “I was not consulted or informed” about the sale, he said.
The president refers to the purchase of part of the property of a Peruvian fishing company by one of his companies, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, denounced by an opposition deputy. The prosecutor Manuel Guerra dismissed him because he did not prove crimes or the participation of the president, a decision that was shared by the courts of justice.
“However, there is no res judicata,” because the edge of the Dominga project was not investigated, “said Herrera.
Before a query, Herrera said that it is very hasty to speak of convictions in the case for acts that “could reverse the character of a crime.” At the insistence of the press, he said that bribery has a five-year sentence.
The first government of President Michelle Bachelet (2010-2014) rejected the project, but last August an Environmental Assessment Commission of Coquimbo, in the north, approved it by majority and the pronouncement of a committee of ministers from Piñera is pending. It is estimated that it will take place soon after the scandal revealed. Piñera leaves power in March 2022.