Presidential hopeful Marco Enríquez-Ominami is taking steps to distance himself from a former advisor, Edgardo Lepe, who last month was found guilty for misuse of state funds to finance campaign activities.
Lepe was found guilty of fraud by Valparaíso Judge Juan Carlos Maggiolo, who handed down a 540-day suspended sentence and ordered Lepe to pay $770,000 Chilean pesos (CH) (US$1,400).
The prosecutors showed that in December 2005 Lepe misused more than CH$23 million in public funds (US$42,000) to finance political campaigns during the congressional election.
These funds actually went to Socialist Party functionary Luis Fernández, who decided which campaigns would receive the money. Fernández was then working for Enríquez-Ominami, as well as former Councilman Ricardo León, also a member of the Socialist Party (PS).
Maggiolo handed similar sentences, with a CH$4 million (US$7,300) fine, to former Regional Secretary of Labor José Manuel Mancilla and Jaime Quiroz, a former official in the Region V administration.
Enríquez-Ominami later left the Socialist Party to run for president as an independent candidate and currently is running a close third in presidential opinion polls.
Lepe led Enríquez-Ominami’s successful campaign for deputy and worked as chief of staff for PS Sen. Carlos Ominami, the presidential candidate’s stepfather.
Enríquez-Ominami has so far had little to say on the topic, but last weekend emphasized that he and his campaign weren’t involved in any wrongdoing.
“We have nothing to do with each other, Carlos and I,” Enríquez-Ominami said. “The prosecutor (agreed). Anyone who doubts that can go to the prosecutor’s office. Carlos and I, each on our own account, have asked the prosecutors twice if they have any doubts… Anyone who has any doubts can ask the prosecutor.”
Sen. Ominami admitted that he had kept in contact with Lepe, who was one of his closest advisors for 15 years, but reiterated that neither he nor his stepson had been involved.
“I heard that he … was facing a painful situation. At least he didn’t go to jail, and he’ll be able to remake his life.”
SOURCES: LA TERCERA, EL MERCURIO