Chilean Billionaire’s Fishing Company Charged in Bribery Case

  • Corpesca allegedly paid lawmakers during fishing bill debate
  • Chile’s industrial fleets have depleted fishing stocks

A Chilean court charged Corpesca SA, a fishing company controlled by billionaire Roberto Angelini, with facilitating bribes to lawmakers as they debated a 2012 law that gave it rights to fish for free along the country’s coasts for at least 20 years.

Two congressmen and a minister of former President Sebastian Pinera have been charged or are under investigation in the case, as well as the former CEO of the company. If found guilty, the court is entitled to close down Corpesca.

The sentence "could range from fines to dissolving the company," Julio Contardo, one of the prosecutors carrying the case, said in comments carried by CNN Chile on Monday. Corpesca’s lawyer Waldo Bown rejected the accusations that the company failed to set up systems to prevent the payment of bribes, according to CNN Chile.

Chile has seriously depleted some of the richest fishing waters in the world, slashing catches of sea bass, mackerel, kingklip, anchovies and skate. The 2012 law was designed to tighten regulation of the industry, reduce catches and make the industry more sustainable. Some members of congress and representatives of smaller fishing firms say it didn’t go far enough, renewing quotas for the industrial fishing fleets such as Corpesca that were blamed for draining the oceans.

For more on Chile’s depleted fishing stocks, click here

The quotas were granted at no cost and with an option to renew them after 20 years, with the regulator citing companies’ "historical rights" to fish the waters off Chile’s coast. According to the regulators, all major fish stocks, excluding sardines, are now classified as either “over-exploited” or “exhausted.”

Angelini, Corpesca’s chairman, controls Empresas Copec SA, Chile’s second biggest publicly traded company, through the holding company AntarChile SA. In the first half of 2016 Corpesca, a unit of Copec, had sales of $257 million, down from $363 million a year before.

Chile has been rocked by a string of political scandals in recent years, tarnishing its reputation of probity. Grupo Penta had to sell assets and close units after being charged with illegally funding a political party and bribing the undersecretary of mining, while fertilizer company Soc. Quimica & Minera de Chile SA is under investigation for illegally funding of parties from across the political spectrum.

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