Minister of Economy Denies Link to Bribery Scandal

SANTIAGO –  An audio recording of ex-parliamentarian Gustavo Hasbún links the Minister of Economy, Lucas Palacios, to an alleged bribery case in Araucanía region. This recording was part of a bigger investigation and it is also the latest scandal to shake an already beleaguered administration. Palacios denies any wrongdoing.

The Public Prosecutor disclosed an ongoing bribery investigation involving the Ministry of Public Works. The allegedly improper deals occurred in Araucanía region and involved businessman Bruno Fulgeri, who turned in evidence about the case. Such evidence includes an audio recording of ex-parliamentarian Gustavo Hasbún.

The recording was given to the press by the Public Prosecutor. In it, Hasbún says, “I will speak to Lucas Palacios [ex-Minister of Public Works and current Minister of Economy] to take the necessary steps to ensure that everything works out, however this will cost you money.” The whistleblower has said that Hasbún isn’t the only one involved, and that this is common practice in the public works ministry.

The Public Prosecutor said it is aware of numerous bribery cases within the ministry, but that this one is being treated differently. At the moment, multiple investigations focus on the alleged transactions. Authorities haven’t discarded the possibility of calling Palacios to testify.

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Palacios’ Defense

On Monday, Palacios denied any connection to Hasbún, saying, “the only relationship I had with him was during President Piñera’s campaign.” He said since Hasbún was a candidate for senator in Aruacanía, he wanted to be informed of Piñera’s activities in the region.

Further rejecting the allegations, Palacios said the accusations against him were vague and poorly researched. He insisted all of his meetings in the ministry were in line with the Lobby Law.

These accusations come at a critical time for the administration. As Piñera attempts to implement his 2020 plan, his government braces for more protests in March. These could turn into yet another headache.

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