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Chilean court dismisses Pandora probe into deceased former President Sebastián Piñera

Before his death, Piñera faced years of scrutiny over an offshore deal uncovered in ICIJ’s Pandora Papers.

A Chilean court has definitively dismissed a criminal case against two-time former President Sebastián Piñera stemming from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ 2021 Pandora Papers investigation.

Piñera, who died in a helicopter crash in February, was under investigation for suspected bribery related to the 2010 sale of his family’s stake in an iron and copper mining project, Minera Dominga, to his associate Carlos Alberto Délano.

ICIJ’s partners, the Chilean Center for Investigative Reporting (CIPER) and Labot, reported that Piñera was linked to several offshore deals, including a contract to sell some of his children’s shares in Minera Dominga through a British Virgin Islands-registered shell company for $138 million paid over three installments.

The final payment of $9.9 million was contingent on the government avoiding regulatory steps that could block a separate proposed mining project, CIPER and Labot found. The outlets did not confirm if the payment was made and Piñera was never charged with a crime.

The controversial Minera Dominga mining project, which became a flashpoint in Chilean politics, was rejected by lawmakers in January 2023 over environmental concerns.

On May 9, the 7th Guarantee Court of Santiago declared that the deal did not “constitute a crime,” rejecting a request by one of the complainants to reopen the case, which was previously dismissed in February shortly after Piñera’s death, according to La Tercera.

“[The request] should be understood as exhausted,” Judge Freddy Cubillos Jofré said in the ruling.

He added that: “the execution of the contract in the [British] Virgin Islands was justified by the nature of the business, being regulated both in its form, requirements and taxation in national legislation … .”

In November 2021, Piñera’s leadership survived an impeachment bid by opposition lawmakers, which succeeded in Chile’s lower house but ultimately failed to achieve the supermajority of votes needed to pass in the Senate.

At the time his, attorney Jorge Gálvez blasted the proceedings as “purely political.”

Piñera, a billionaire who ran three times for the presidency, and left office in 2022, was one of three sitting Latin American presidents whose offshore dealings were exposed in the Pandora Papers, based on a trove of nearly 12 million leaked files.

His sudden accidental death drew condolences from current and former world leaders from across the political spectrum, including U.S. President Joe Biden who praised Piñera for his commitment to “forging a more secure and prosperous future for Chile.”

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