September 25, 2019 / 7:42 PM / 19 days ago

Chilean prosecutor who led church abuse probes faces removal amid negligence claim

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A Chilean prosecutor who led one of the world’s most aggressive investigations of sex abuse allegations against the Roman Catholic Church now faces removal from his post amid claims of impropriety involving a drug case and other official duties.

FILE PHOTO: Chilean prosecutor Emiliano Arias, who is leading an investigation against alleged sex abuse crimes by Roman Catholic priests, is seen before a news conference in Santiago, Chile March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido/File Photo

Chile´s national prosecutor Jorge Abbott on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to ratify his recommendation that Emiliano Arias, a prosecutor in the provincial town of Rancagua, be sacked for “bad behavior and negligence”.

In a statement sent to Reuters, the national prosecuting authority said an internal investigation found Arias had passed classified information about a drug trafficking case to his sister, failed to investigate leaks from his team to the media and failed to allocate resources to a fellow prosecutor.

“In court further information will be given about historic behavior to justify the request (for his removal),” the statement added.

Arias told reporters in a press conference in Santiago that the case against him was “plagued with illegalities, irregularities, unconstitutional behavior” and he welcomed the chance to fight in court.

“I have prosecuted criminals all of my career, very dangerous criminals and very powerful criminals. I have received death threats,” he told reporters.

“I was under permanent police protection for nine years and I was never intimidated. These illegal and arbitrary attempts will not intimidate me, I will fight for what I believe is right, my innocence, until the end.”

Arias is famous for his role in investigations into illegal political campaign financing by businesses and influence trafficking by the son of former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, an allegation of which he was eventually acquitted.

He led multiple raids on the Chilean Catholic Church seeking evidence of historical sexual abuse, seizing thousands of documents to pursue 30 cases of alleged abuse dating back to 2007 that he said the Church had not reported to police.

He also vowed to introduce a new charge of cover-up against senior church figures including Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, who stepped down as Santiago Archbishop earlier this year.

A spokesman for the national prosecution authority declined to respond to Arias´ claims of improper prosecution, and said his caseload had been transferred to other prosecutors.

In the church abuse case, Chilean prosecutors are investigating 158 allegations of sexual abuse or cover-up involving 241 victims, 123 of whom were underage at the time of the abuse, according to statistics released by the national prosecutor’s office in August 2018.

Reporting by Erik Lopez and Aislinn Laing; Editing by David Gregorio

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