NATIONAL POLITICS

Piñera’s Gambling Problem

Sebastián Piñera and Enjoy Casino

SANTIAGO – An investigation by journalist Alejandra Matus revealed President Sebastián Piñera’s close connections to Chilean casino chain Enjoy. The president signed a decree extending a deadline for four of the chain’s casinos just one day before its expiry date. Two companies that manage the president and his family’s assets are involved in Enjoy’s operations.

President Sebastián Piñera’s business interests have come under scrutiny once again.

He is involved with casino chain Enjoy, for which he extended permits just before they expired. During TV show Mentiras Verdaderas, broadcast by La Red, journalist Alejandra Matus also recently revealed that Piñera has conflicts of interests related to the bidding process for casino works.

BTG Pactual and Moneda Asset manage the Piñera family’s wealth, estimated at US$3 billion, and Matus showed that the former owns seven percent of Enjoy and the latter owns 50 percent of Enjoy’s debt in dollars.

Matus told Chile Today that accountability is paramount in this case. “Not to me or any other journalist but to the Chilean people, based on the facts that have been verified and published.”

Government palace La Moneda has downplayed the investigation. Spokesperson Jaime Bellolio said on Mar. 22 that “the president does not have and has not had any type of relationship of any kind with Enjoy or any other casino.”

Enjoy had been struggling since 2017 and in April 2020, the business faced restructuring to turn its US$465 million debt into bonds and avoid bankruptcy. However, Piñera signed decree 77 on Jan. 28, which enabled Enjoy to delay the opening of four casinos it bought in 2018 as the company could not begin operations as expected. According to Matus, Enjoy’s shares rose from CLP$6 to CLP$13 after the signing of the decree.

The Comptroller’s Role

Although the decree doesn’t mention Enjoy, Matus showed it is the only business that has benefited from it. Once signed, the order was reviewed by the comptroller and approved because “the possibility for an extension is exceptional and only due to the sanitary circumstances in the country because of the Covid-19 outbreak.” Yet, the provisions in the decree materialized before the comptroller’s approval.

Other entities also helped Enjoy, Matus found. On Feb. 19, the casino watchdog allowed businesses to open even during phase 2 of the government’s Paso a Paso plan. An investigative commission organized by Congress’ lower chamber showed that the regulator favored Enjoy, instead of “safeguarding the public interest in inspecting the company’s casinos.”

Piñera’s Legacy

Days before Matus’ report, the government announced that the president’s friend Magdalena Díaz will return to La Moneda to lead a team that will focus on building the president’s narrative with books, digital and film media.

Matus said Piñera should think about his legacy as “risky, especially when he has been questioned about different matters, such as human rights violations, conflicts of interest, his indifference to the cost, in terms of deaths and impoverishment of people during the pandemic.”

Still, the official narrative could encourage others to look deeper into Piñera’s legacy at a time when his presidency has weakened, Matus said.

Díaz, who is the daughter of Pedro Díaz, a close friend of Piñera and ambassador to Portugal, called TV station La Red’s directors in Miami to complain about the revelations. Matus said such behavior was “authoritarian” and “anti-democratic,” as it further undermines Piñera’s weak leadership. “He is not capable of straightforwardly responding to questions and tries to silence [journalists] instead.”

All Bets Are Off

If the revelations will hurt Piñera during his last months in office or after remains to be seen.

Matus told Chile Today “my work as an investigator and journalist is based on the evidence I collect in the present. But the most important thing is to clarify any conflicts of interest for democracy’s health and the wellbeing of common goods and public resources that belong to all Chileans.”

Her full investigation is available here, in Spanish.

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