Salmon industry corruption? Former mayor imprisoned for bribery network in Puerto Natales

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By Radio del Mar
The former mayor of Puerto Natales, José Fernando Paredes Mansilla, has been indicted on charges of bribery, among others, and sent to prison. The controversial management of Paredes, who was mayor for 12 years, has plunged the municipality of Puerto Natales into a deep financial crisis due to billions of pesos spent on unfinished public works, contracts that were not fulfilled, double payments to suppliers, construction of infrastructure with serious deficiencies, and the existence of a network set up to appropriate tax money.
Political-business de facto powers in the Magellanic "Far West"
Fernando Paredes during his three terms as mayor was in parallel president of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI) of the Magallanes region, and at the end of his term president of the Chilean Association of Municipalities.
Asked by #ElMagallanes about the participation of the former mayor Paredes in this whole corruption situation, the district attorney Sebastián González answered that "according to the background we have, and the formalization we carried out, what is certain is that he expressly accepted bribes from the company Itelecom.
In a 12-hour hearing, the court in the province of Ultima Esperanza, in the Magallanes region, heard the facts exposed by the district attorney's office, which revealed the alleged link between former mayor Paredes, an official and representatives of the company Itelecom, within a bidding process for the installation of LED lights in the municipality of Puerto Natales.
Itelcom, through the intermediary Cristián Ureta Bravo, "facilitated the offer and payment of bribes. In the case of Mr. Paredes, there was an acceptance of a bribe offered by Itelecom. In these circumstances he was formalized, and the court considered that there were sufficient antecedents regarding his participation, for which he was placed in preventive custody."
The investigation estimates that Itelcom would have spent more than 1,600 million pesos to bribe public officials at a national level.
Along with Paredes, the owner of Itelecom, León Lefort Hernández; his partner Ricardo Rodríguez Bizama; Pedro Guerra Guerrero, head of the bidding area of the same company; Cristián Ureta Bravo, Itelcom's lobbyist, and Cristián Seit Rojas were formally charged.
Andres Matulich Silva, a municipal official of Puerto Natales, who, like Paredes, was indicted for bribery, and sent to prison, was also included.
The district attorney has 4 months time to investigate, until May 23, to determine whether to file charges against all of the people who have been indicted.
The "modus operandi" in Puerto Natales
The information provided indicates that the companies involved created links with officials within the municipalities, or with an operator who had influence within them. In this way, they were able to modify at their convenience the administrative conditions, technical conditions or the evaluation guidelines for public lighting tenders, in addition to obtaining the conditions before they were published on the Public Market platform.
The background information provided by the Prosecutor's Office corresponds to statements, documents and wiretaps, all of which were sufficient to prove, at least at this early stage of the case, the possible participation of the accused. At the beginning of the hearing, the media were prohibited from disclosing photographs, audios and videos of the day, as well as details that could be sensitive for the development of the investigation.
Unfair administration, tax fraud and embezzlement of public funds 
Although the attorneys for the defendants insisted that there is no evidence of any alleged receipt of funds by José Fernando Paredes, district attorney González pointed out that "it is irrelevant" the delivery of money, or a certain amount, the mere offer or acceptance being enough, since bribery is a felony crime.
In addition, he explained that the accused has 4 other cases in force dating from 2020 and 2021, one of which is for disloyal administration, another for tax fraud and two for embezzlement of public funds. The crimes of bribery and violation of secrecy -which are the ones Paredes and Matulich are charged with- have sentences ranging from 541 days to 5 years each.
The "black box" of the salmon financing networks of former mayor Paredes' activities
The political-business corruption surrounding the case of bribes for the LED lights may have extended to other situations linked to tenders or permits for the operations of new companies without municipal patents linked to the expansion of the salmon industry. Such would be the case of the 5 billion pesos in public investment awarded for a sanitary landfill in Puerto Natales, which could contaminate a source of drinking water used by the citizens of Puerto Natales.
The current mayor Oyarzo points out that they are still collecting information on complaints over "irregular" situations that have been dragging on for years in the municipality, and there is currently no information that sheds light on how the public activities of the former mayor Paredes were financed, and the works projects for the community, which would have been carried out with contributions and money from the large salmon farming companies located in the province. "During the last 12 years of the administration of the former mayor (Paredes), there is no formal registry, nothing that can quantify how much the industry contributed, and what it was spent on," the mayor, Antonieta Oyarzo, told the Chilean television news program Reportajes T13. 
However, these new antecedents could motivate new extensions of the lawsuits over unfair administration and fraud to the Chilean state treasury that the current mayor's office has filed with the courts in Magallanes.
The distribution of 500 computers financed by salmon transnationals 
One of the most striking activities of "social aid" carried out in March 2021 by the former mayor Paredes was the project "Natales se conecta," in which through the Municipal Corporation of Education of Puerto Natales, he delivered 500 computers to local high schools, along with a free Internet connection for a year.
The activity garnered great media coverage one month before the 2021 municipal elections, where Paredes had opted for a “prudent" withdrawal of his candidacy for a new reelection, after the accusations of administrative irregularities, having delegated the continuity of his administration to fellow conservative party member Ana Mayorga, a former councilwoman on four occasions, and former governor of the province of Ultima Esperanza, who competed and lost to the current mayor Antonieta Oyarzo.
This political promotional activity of Paredes had the enthusiastic public support of the transnational salmon company Australis Seafoods (China) together with the Spanish company Movistar. They were joined by the companies Wellboat S.A., Pesquera Alvarez & Alvarez; Constructora De Vicente S.A.; CPT.; Inersa Innovación Energía S.A.; Sotralop (Empresas López); Maqsur Maquinaria S.A.; Constructora Vilicic; Jakoa SPA; IMA (Industria y Maestranza Austral Ltda.) and Transportes y Servicios Eugenio Vilicic Peña y Cía.
Under the suggestive title "There is room for the contribution of salmon farming to be greater,” Paredes told that "the municipality has a cordial relationship of permanent dialogue and cooperation with the productive sectors with a presence in the region.  In the case of salmon farming, the greatest collaborative work has been done through SalmonChile, whose proactive role during this pandemic has been recognized and appreciated, with decisive and timely collaborative actions, for example, supporting fairs and markets, delivering sanitary kits, or supporting sanitary and social containment measures."
Ecocéanos: Political-business corruption accompanies the salmon assault on Chilean Patagonia
According to Centro Ecocéanos, "the cases of corruption in the administration of former Mayor Paredes reveal the active or covert intervention of transnational salmon companies or those companies based in Santiago, Chile, in the political process of Magallanes."
This occurs when the companies implement "agendas of co-optation of officials, attempting to destabilize authorities who are not loyal to them, or assimilating social and community leaders, without any control by the central authorities or their parent companies over their actions."
The environmental group stated that "social movements and consumer organizations must be alert to the corrupt and abusive actions of the salmon cluster in the Patagonian regions of Magallanes, Aysén and Los Lagos, where the companies are trying to ensure the existence of authorities and public services that serve their corporate interests, allowing them to continue with their destructive and exclusionary territorial and productive expansion," said Ecoceanos.

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