Chilean prosecutors have opened an investigation into an alleged bribe paid to a former Argentine minister by Chile’s flag carrier Lan sometime in 2006/2007 to help with the opening of operations in Argentina. At the time Chilean president Sebastián Piñera was the main share holder of the airline.
The case has been initiated to investigate the possible links in Chile involving the payment of 1.15 million US dollars to former Transport Minister Ricardo Jaime through his private secretary, Manuel Vazquez. Both have been indicted in Argentina on other charges.
Last November Buenos Aires daily Clarin published that Lan had paid Ricardo Jaime the equivalent of 1.15 million USD for consulting contracts in the area of transport, which became evident on finding three registered payment receipts from an auditing Argentine company, CAESA, at the end of 2006, beginning of 2007 extended to Lan Airlines and an associate company.
Lan currently has a subsidiary that operates from Argentina but having access to the permits and certificates proved to be a long, exhausting process.
According to Chilean prosecutors the investigation is in the hands of Jose Morales from the “Complex crimes Department” who travelled last March to meet with Argentine federal judge Norberto Oyarbide who has the case of “illicit enrichment” against former Minister Jaime.
The investigation was opened following a request from an opposition member of congress Jorge Burgos to the office of Chile’s Attorney General, Sabas Chahuan, based on the reports published in the Argentine press.
According to La Nacion, Buenos Aires, last week Argentine Judge Oyarbide sent to Chile through diplomatic channels interrogation exhorts in the framework of the investigation.
According to Chilean court sources if there are any indications that President Piñera, as president of Lan at the time could have been aware of those payments, Prosecutor Morales will have to step aside and leave the case to the country’s Attorney General who will continue with the investigation.
On 18 February 2010 the investment group Axxion, through which president-elect Sebastián Piñera had 19.03% of Lan stock, decided to sell the whole package to the Cueto family, partners in the majority control of the airline. The operation involved 1.2 billion US dollars.
The deal between Axxion and Costa Verde Aeronaútica SA from the Cueto family, allowed the Cuetos to take full control of all of Piñera’s shares, which included another 2%, from Inversiones Santa Cecilia, also belonging to the president.