Three wealthiest municipalities in Chile rattled by corruption cases

Allegations of fraud and corruption have surfaced in Chile’s three richest municipalities. All three, led by conservative, rightwing parties, made headlines with shady contracts, untraceable donations, and possible bribes. Separate investigations have been opened and some key figures have already resigned from their roles or parties.

What do Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, and Vitacura have in common? They are the three wealthiest municipalities in Chile, they voted against a new Constitution in the 2020 referendum, they are all led by mayors who belong to the most conservative political parties, and now they have all been rattled by corruption cases within their municipal governments or institutions connected to these governments.

Lo Barnechea

First is Lo Barnechea. The corruption investigated there took place several years ago, when former Metropolitan governor Felipe Guevara (National Renewal (RN) party) was mayor. According to contracts recently investigated by the Supreme Court, illegal permits were given to media company Global Media S.A. to make use of public spaces and billboards at 70 different locations in the municipality. There was no bidding process, no proof of payments to municipal offices, and other advertisement companies did not receive any answers when they demanded transparency. Guevara and several municipal servants are under investigation and face an accusation for possible corruption.

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Just as current Lo Barnechea mayor Cristobal Lira has denounced the alleged corruption by his predecessor, current Vitacura mayor Camila Merino has done the same with a complaint she filed against her predecessor, Raúl Torrealba (RN), who is accused of embezzlement of public funds during his term as mayor, which lasted from 1996 until 2021. According to the complaint, Torrealba received cash payments from Domingo Prieto, who worked as the legal representative of the Local Sports Council, Vita Salud, Vita Deportes, and Vita Emprende, all corporations tied to the municipality. The case came to light when the woman who delivered the payments – a niece of Prieto and daughter of Torrealba – declared the facts to the police. According to this woman, the monthly payments averaged some CLP$5 million (about $6,340). After her declaration, police searched the houses of the accused and the offices of the corporations. What the money was for is unclear and is part of a pending investigation: Torrealba has already resigned from RN ahead of the outcome of the investigation.

Las Condes

And if this was not enough, an audio file was sent to the Las Condes municipal council, which has two members of the Communal Union of Neighborhood Councils talking about payments. According to a complaint filed by Las Condes mayor Daniela Peñaloza, the union contracted with people who then allegedly had to pay kickbacks, something that could be heard being discussed in the recorded dialogue. All contracts, documents, and files of this union, which receives money from the municipality, have been requested ahead of the investigation “to continue increasing the standards of transparency and oversight by and for the neighbors,” according to the complaint.

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