Photo: Political Corruption
The mayor of the northern Chilean city of Arica, six councilors and local business leaders were among 18 people indicted Thursday for conspiracy to embezzle public money.
Judge Sara Pizarro ordered 16 of the 18 defendants, including Mayor Waldo Sankan, held pending trial.
The other two alleged conspirators, 84-year-old Councilwoman Elena Diaz and a councilman’s wife, were granted house arrest on health grounds.
A 19th defendant, businessman Ruperto Ojeda, turned himself in after the hearing and will be arraigned separately, courts sources said.
Prosecutors say the mayor, councilors and other municipal officials accepted more than 1 billion pesos ($2.1 million) in bribes from business owners in exchange for lucrative city contracts.
The investigation is ongoing and the sums involved could be as high as 4 billion pesos, the prosecution said at the hearing, asserting that Arica’s mayor and council were little more than puppets of area businessman Jorge Frias.
The officeholders charged in the case range across the political spectrum, from the right to the Communist Party.
The illicit scheme began in 2004, according to prosecutors.
Several years of investigation culminated Monday in a police search of Arica city hall, which led in turn to the arrests.
Prosecutors have presented transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations among the defendants. In an attempt to protect their identities, the alleged conspirators referred to each other by pseudonyms.
Mayor Sankan’s cover name was “Superman.”