* Former candidate Golborne engulfed in retail, funds
* UDI party taps Economy Minister Longueira as new candidate
* Ex-president Bachelet expected to win November vote
By Anthony Esposito
SANTIAGO, April 29 Chilean businessman Laurence
Golborne abandoned his presidential candidacy on Monday over a
billing scandal and allegations of undeclared offshore assets,
dealing a blow to the ruling center-right coalition's hopes of
retaining power in the November election.
"I don't want to be an obstacle ... right now I'm
withdrawing my candidacy," Golborne, a former public works and
mining minister who spearheaded the 2010 rescue of 33 trapped
miners in the Atacama desert, said at a news conference in
The charismatic Golborne, an independent who was backed by
the UDI political party, was widely seen as the conservative
with the best shot at defeating Michelle Bachelet, a former
president and the frontrunner to lead the center-left in the
Nov. 17 vote.
The UDI said it was tapping Economy and Tourism Minister
Pablo Longueira, a veteran politician who was close to former
dictator Augusto Pinochet, to replace Golborne. Longueira, who
had a 50 percent approval rating in March, according to pollster
Adimark, will likely face a June 30 primary against former
Defense Minister Andres Allamand.
The shake-up in the presidential race came after Chile's top
court fined retailer Cencosud about $70 million last
week for overcharging some 600,000 customers in its supermarket
unit in 2006, when Golborne was the company's chief executive
Chilean newspaper El Sur reported over the weekend that
Golborne has undeclared investments in accounts held in the
British Virgin Islands, and other media picked up on the report.
Golborne said the accounts complied with tax rules.
But his muddled defense of his responsibility in the
Cencosud scandal added to criticism that he was politically
inexperienced. Golborne initially said it was unclear if there
had been abuse, and then declared he had merely gone along with
the Cencosud board's decision.
There is significant distrust of business executives in
Chile, the world's No. 1 copper producer.
Its center-right coalition has been unable to capitalize on
robust economic growth and low unemployment under the
stewardship of President Sebastian Pinera, who is ranked the
most unpopular president in two decades.
Pinera, a billionaire who used to run an airline, has been
battered by protests demanding free education for all in Chile,
which has the highest income inequality among countries in the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Pinera is constitutionally barred from running for a second
consecutive term as president.
Most polls show that Bachelet, a pediatrician who ruled from
2006 to 2010, will easily win the presidential election if she
gets the backing of the center-left as expected.
She has said she would pursue major tax reform, change the
constitution and "work towards" free education if elected.