Ricardo Martínez: The head of the Chilean Army resigns due to a corruption scandal | International
The leader of the Chilean Army, General Ricardo Martínez, charged in a judicial investigation into fraud in the military institution, has resigned this Wednesday from his position. He does so just a week from the date on which he was to hand over the command in chief of the Army to his successor and before the decision of Judge Romy Rutherford, who is investigating the plot, to question him this Thursday, while the uniformed man was still occupying the post. Faced with the possibility of prosecution and possible arrest, Martínez finally decided to leave his post early, the same one held by Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1998 and which has three of his four successors on trial: Óscar Izurieta (2006-2010), Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba (2010-2014) and Humberto Oviedo (2014-2018). General Izurieta, in fact, has been under arrest since February 14 for the alleged crimes of embezzlement of public funds, for some eight million dollars, and forgery of a military document.
It is not a normal or usual event for an Army leader to leave office before the end of his term, although it has happened in other branches of the Armed and Law Enforcement Forces. But neither has a leader of the institution, in the exercise of his position, been prosecuted by the Justice or arrested. Faced with the possibility that Judge Rutherford will do so this Thursday, when she interrogates Martínez for 15 trips abroad that seem suspicious to him – some made with his wife, despite the fact that they were paid for with public money – the general has had to take a step side ahead of time. Martínez himself announced it in the public account of the institution that was held this Wednesday, where the military defended his innocence and announced that he had previously submitted his resignation to President Sebastián Piñera, who leaves La Moneda on March 11.
“I reiterate my innocence and I state that I have never been nor will I be above the law, but it is not my place to be below the law,” said the military man who was a member of the Army for 46 years and who was appointed commander-in-chief in the previous government, of President Michelle Bachelet (2014-2018). Martínez said that he resigns "despite the fact that he should have the presumption of innocence that every citizen enjoys, but that in practice applies to some and not to all."
Judge Rutherford investigates the case fraud in the army since 2017. It has investigated about 40 edges, but there are two that have caused a series of prosecutions for the misuse of the institution's resources. One of the threads refers to the alleged embezzlement of money intended for security and intelligence areas, but which would have been used to pay for the high standard of living of the Army commanders in chief: houses, cars, jewelry, gifts. Izurieta, Fuente-Alba and Oviedo are on trial for this matter, and Izurieta himself acknowledged before the judge the diversion of expenses reserved to finance the family of Pinochet, who died in 2006 and whose widow died last December.
A second line of investigation points to the irregular use of money allocated for official travel. Martínez, resigned today, will be questioned as a defendant in both cases. In his case, at least 15 trips abroad between 2009 and 2019 are investigated, which were analyzed by the police by order of the judge. It is the report that caused Rutherford to decide to question him immediately, without considering political reasons such as his prompt departure from office and the intention of the general himself – who knew about the diligence – to give a statement when he left the command in chief of the Army.
The judge has detected that, together with a travel agency, itineraries were prepared with scales of several days and bulky budgets. This difference in money would have ended up on some occasions in the hands of the travelers themselves. In 2018, when the edge of the air tickets appeared, the Army officially declared that it was “erroneous practices”. But there are several issues that complicate Martinez. Judge Rutherford would have heard statements that point to official trips by the general with his wife, when extraordinary passages were not contemplated, according to the Chilean press. In the same way, Martínez was one of the few soldiers who returned the money with a first and last name when the Army set up a bank account to return this money, once the case had exploded and was investigated by the magistrate, who is exclusively dedicated to to this case at least until next August 31, as decreed by the Chilean Supreme Court.
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There is still no clarity about how the case will impact the new commander in chief of the Army, Javier Iturriaga, not only because the institution itself has recognized that the issue of tickets was a common practice, but also because the general It appears mentioned in the police reports by this edge. The military officer, who will take office in a week, while the Army remains in the hands of a substitute, became known to Chilean public opinion in the context of the social unrest of 2019. When President Piñera assured that Chile was “at war against an enemy powerful”, the general who was head of the National Defense of the capital was consulted on the matter and replied: “I am a happy man. The truth is that I am not at war with anyone,” said Iturriaga, who contradicted the president in the midst of the riots.
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