Chile's SQM fires CEO tied to campaign finance scandal
SANTIAGO, March 17 (Reuters) - Chile's SQM has fired its chief executive after the fertilizer company became embroiled in a campaign financing scandal largely involving a right-wing party with close links to the 1973-1990 dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
SQM, which has the rights to some of the world's largest reserves of nitrates and lithium, said after a board meeting on Monday night that it had "agreed to terminate" the contract of CEO Patricio Contesse, who was with the company for more than 25 years.
Shortly after announcing Contesse's departure, SQM said it would voluntarily comply with a demand made earlier this month by the country's internal revenue service to hand over tax information relating to the last six years.
Contesse previously tried to obtain a legal injunction to prevent the handover, but the effort was rejected by the courts.
Authorities are probing whether resources were channeled illicitly to finance electoral campaigns for the UDI, the country's biggest conservative party, as part of a scandal that has rocked Chile's business and political establishment.
The head of the UDI has resigned over the allegations.
The owners of financial firm Banco Penta already have been charged with bribery and tax evasion. Prosecutors say they have evidence that fake receipts used by Penta's owners to dodge taxes were used to make illegal campaign finance contributions.
SQM is no stranger to scandal. Last year, Chile's financial regulator fined SQM Chairman Julio Ponce, Pinochet's former son-in-law, and other company executives and brokers over market manipulation.
The cases have angered Chileans, proud of their reputation for being one of the least corrupt and most investor-friendly economies in Latin America.
SQM's deputy CEO, Patricio de Solminihac, will take over from Contesse, the company said. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien and Antonio de la Jara; Editing by Paul Simao)
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