SANTIAGO, Chile – The Chilean Chamber of Deputies has given the green light to the formation of a commission that will investigate former Chilean President Sebastián Piñera’s investments after news emerged that one of his companies invested in a Peruvian fishing business which benefited from a maritime decision in a case involving the two nations.
Piñera, the billionaire businessman who led Chile from 2010 to 2014 on behalf of the center-right National Renewal (and the center-right to right-wing Alliance for Chile coalition), left office with low approval numbers.
When he left the Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, he said that he would not be seeking a return to the presidency in 2018 (and he did not seek another term in 2014 as immediate re-election is barred by the Chilean Constitution).
With the electoral campaign season right around the corner, however, Piñera’s name has been thrown around as a possible candidate for the November 2017 election given his standing as the most prominent politician of the center-right.
Furthermore, the largest coalition on the other end of the political spectrum, the center-left to left-wing New Majority, will very likely present Ricardo Lagos as its candidate. Lagos, of the center-left Party of Democracy (PPD), is also a former president (2000-2006) and respected political figure.
Thus, the conservative Alliance for Chile coalition, now known by the name of Chile Vamos (Let’s Go, Chile), needs a strong candidate and Piñera seems to be the name most analysts have mentioned as the strongest conservative candidate in spite of his generally negative administration. Despite his earlier statements of not wanting a return to the presidency, Piñera has not ruled out his candidacy.
As such, Piñera is a hot topic in Chile once again and earlier this week, it was made known by online Chilean daily ‘El Mostrador’ that Piñera invested in Empresa Pesquera Exalmar S.A., one of the largest fishing companies of Peru, in the middle of his presidential term and amidst the case presented by Peru against Chile at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that sought to redefine maritime borders on historical grounds.
“In coarse terms, this means that the part of Chile that was lost to the hands of Peru in this case was won by the former president through his company’s foreign investment in Peru,” the article in ‘El Mostrador’ read.
In 2008, after years of political wrangling, Peru filed a case at the ICJ regarding its maritime border dispute with Chile. Peru claimed that there was never an officially signed treaty that determined where one nation’s sea territory begins and ends. The Chileans, however, said the exact opposite, claiming that a duo of treaties signed in 1952 and 1954 between them and Peru (and Ecuador) clearly defined the lines as they stood.
Overall, nearly 38,000 square kilometers (14,700 square miles) of lucrative ocean territory was at stake and the ICJ delivered its verdict in January of 2014, the final and definitive judgment concerning the dispute.
Peru seemingly came out the winner, gaining a large chunk of the disputed territory (some 21,000 sq. km. of the aforementioned 38,000 sq. km.) even though they did not get everything they wanted, including a section of the maritime territory that remained in the hands of Chile that is more valuable in terms of containing high-yield fishing waters.
Regardless, Peru gained a large amount of exploitable maritime territory at the end of the contentious and heated case and the notion that Piñera (and his Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno Charme) invested in the Peruvian companies that would be operating soon in these areas (without disclosing any information to the public or to the various state ministries and political leaders with which he met as part of analyzing the ICJ case) has been met with disbelief and anger by the Chilean public.
Piñera bought shares of Exalmar through Bancard, his investment firm worth some $400 million (that counts his son Sebastian Piñera Morel as one of its top directors currently) and Piñera himself is still a shareholder today as he owns 9.10 percent of the Peruvian fishing company’s total capital, according to ‘El Mostrador.’
During the case at the ICJ, Piñera stayed silent about his investment interests north of the border but repeatedly and emphatically stated that he was enthusiastic about a positive outcome for Chile in the case.
“In this case, there is no Chilean government or opposition; we are all Chileans and we will all defend our legitimate national interests,” he said concerning the case and presented a united front as he posed together with former leaders, top advisors, high security officials and top figures from across the political spectrum. “This is not a cause for me and this is not a cause for my government but rather the noble cause for Chile,” he said.
Upon learning the decision of the ICJ, Piñera said that he lamented the decision but added that “keeping calm is the best defense possible,” a statement that perhaps now has a new meaning given the revelations concerning his monetary interests.
In response to the recent developments, the Chamber of Deputies approved the formation of a commission that will look closely into investments made by Piñera during his presidential mandate.
For his part, Piñera has denied any wrongdoing and said that any investments he made were monitored and regulated by the proper authorities.
He said that he has “detached himself from the management and administration” of Bancard (despite the fact that his son sits on the board of directoes) but he still owns shares despite not making any “investment decisions.” Furthermore, Piñera said that any accusations levied against him are being done as part of a “dirty political campaign” that has already started.