Investigation into Fraud Allegations in the Chilean Health Department
SANTIAGO — The Minister of Health has come into criticism recently after it emerged that Western Metropolitan Health Service contracted and paid $330,000 (160 million CLP) for unnecessart services. Three health care officials have been linked to the two companies in question. The scandal came to light through a routine investigation by the Ministry of Health.
This follows another controversy surrounding the health department, when an unnecessary alarm was raised due to bacteria found in the Posta Central hospital in Santiago. Two members of Parliament are now facing investigation.
The audit, ordered by General Finance Office of the Republic, later found that there were 102 false invoices worth $2 million (1 billion CLP) which seemed to be fabricated in the same manner as the embezzled $330,000.
According to Health Minister Jaime Mañalich, ”We encountered situations which seem to constitute a criminal offense.” With regards to the false invoices, he asserts that, “The health service has been paid significant amounts of money with no official documents certifying the need for the requested services.”
He explains that, “We suspect that the figure could reach 5 billion pesos, or 10 million dollars. We are talking about the equivalent of 2 health centers. I believe this figure could be nothing compared to what we might find when we investigate other health services throughout the country.”
The Health Minister has also speculated that the laundered money may have been used to fund political campaigns.
Due to the gravity of the situation and new evidence coming into light, the prosecutor has decided to submit the case to chief prosecutor, Jose Morales, who reviews complex cases.
Enrique Ayarza, former health minister from 2003 until 2009, has come under criticism by Mañalich. In his defence, Ayarza asserted, “It is true that $400,000 (200 million CLP) has been laundered in the Western Health Service by leading civil servants since 2010. This is true. The other accusation (that fraud had occurred before this year) the minister will have to prove, I don’t know where he got it from. I would have to be very absent-minded to lose five billion pesos.”
He is considering suing the health authority for libel.
Maria Soledad Barría, former health minister during the government of Michelle Bachelet, has denounced the accusations by Mañalich as a move by the government to blame their mistakes on the previous administration.