This article first appeared in El Mostrador on December 31, 2021.
As a cliché at the end of the year, it is time for the year’s recap and, in terms of corruption, the conclusions are worrisome. This 2021 no sector was spared and we saw a parade of cases in business, municipalities, public institutions, and even individuals who managed to make fun of our “naivety”.
It is time to face it, corruption is a reality in Chile, and bad practices or lack of ethics are far from being isolated. Let’s zoom in briefly to summarize it.
In the business sphere, the Itelecom case -payment of bribes to several municipalities to be awarded the replacement of street lights-, continued with new and shocking antecedents such as the use of ghost companies and homeless people to launder bribes, new municipalities involved and people formalized. And while the investigation is still ongoing, we will surely continue to have news in 2022.
And in emblematic cases of business and politics, this year we had good and bad news. On the one hand, a precedent was set in the conviction for the Corpesca case, sentencing a politician – the former senator Jaime Orpis – with an effective penalty, in addition to convicting the company as a legal entity for the crime of bribery, proving that it did not comply with the duty imposed by its Crime Prevention Model. On the other hand, the Prosecutor’s Office decided not to pursue the investigation against 34 defendants in the SQM case, because the SII did not file a complaint against them. This is a bad sign that feeds the feeling of impunity and that justice acts according to who is corrupt. This case is currently awaiting trial.
In the public sphere, the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of Order and Security also made news in terms of corruption. In 2021 we saw how the image of the PDI was affected after the CDE filed a lawsuit against its former general director, Héctor Espinosa, accusing him of stealing part of the institution’s reserved expenses, who would have used the same modus operandi of the former commander in chief of the Army, Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba; and of the former general directors of Carabineros Eduardo Gordon, Gustavo González Jure and Bruno Villalobos, as well as the former undersecretary of Carabineros, Javiera Blanco. Thus, we realized that diverting reserved expenses was a common practice and that defrauding the State was relatively easy. However, this brought a high cost for the citizens, because, beyond stealing money from all Chileans, it defrauded the public faith and increased the crisis of trust, especially coming from the institutions in charge of ensuring security and integrity.
And although it is known that municipalities are institutions with a high risk of corruption due to the amount of money they handle, the number of officials and suppliers linked to them, in 2021, reality surpassed imagination.
In addition to several (former) mayors behind bars for various scandals, there was a series of events where the protagonists were the municipal corporations, private law entities financed with public resources, with little oversight and no accountability. Thus, thanks to journalistic work and changes in administration, we learned of investigations for embezzlement and fraud in the corporations of Vitacura, Las Condes, Lo Barnechea, and Ñuñoa. But we also saw how overtime had nothing extra and that what had been investigated in Viña del Mar for some time was happening in many other municipalities in the country, Santiago being the last one to come to the fore.
We also saw a hard blow to narco-politics in San Ramon, after the now-former mayor of the commune, Miguel Angel Aguilera, lost the elections and was remanded in custody after being formalized for bribery, money laundering, and illicit enrichment. With a new administration, it has been revealed how a real mafia operated inside this municipal house.
As if that were not enough, in this election year there were several controversies about the rendering of campaign expenses, receipts of candidates’ relatives, and even false signatures before a deceased notary, not to mention a conventional elected under the cover of a lie.
We could continue adding lines because the list is extensive. The important thing is that we understand, in this “brief” brushstroke, that corruption is among us and that it operates in various forms and that, in this 2021, it was present in 360°.
Mitigating it depends largely on us, by ceasing to be spectators and taking an active role in prevention and reporting. Likewise, companies must strengthen their controls, since, as we know, it takes the public and private sectors to corrupt the system.
In 2022 we have the great challenge of acting based on what we have learned, and it is to be hoped that the new government will emphasize this matter, with the support of each of us as active citizens.
By Susana Sierra