The new law on economic and environmental crimes (Ley 21595), which came into force on 17 August this year, establishes several measures for the prevention and punishment of offenses in the areas of the stock market and banking; the environment; taxation; embezzlement of public funds, and bribery; and money laundering and receiving.
The legislation reforms the Criminal Code and seeks to prevent this type of crime through more significant requirements for legal persons, their internal compliance systems, and management. By introducing different treatments for economic crimes compared to ordinary crime, the legislator recognizes the social damage caused by this type of crime and punishes economic impunity with harsher penalties.
Four categories of economic crime are established:
1st category: crimes against the stock market and banking. These are always, by definition of the law, financial crimes.
2nd category: tax and environmental crimes. These are considered economic crimes when they are committed in the exercise of an office, function, or position within a company or when they result in a financial or other benefit for the company.
3rd category: Embezzlement of public funds and bribery. Offenses perpetrated by a public official involving a company.
4th category: Money laundering and receiving, when they are based on a crime considered to be economic (previous categories).
Natural persons who commit economic crimes can be punished with conditional remission, partial reclusion in the home, partial reclusion in a particular establishment, fines, confiscation of profits, and effective imprisonment.
Legal persons can be sentenced to the extinction of legal personality, disqualification from entering into contracts with the State, loss of tax benefits and prohibition to receive them, supervision of the legal person, fines, confiscation of profits, and publication of an extract of the conviction.
Environmental Criminal Liability
The new law establishes a system of environmental criminal liability, which implies that companies should consider essential modifications when executing their projects. The criminal offenses the law distinguishes are related to attacks against the environment (incorporated into the Penal Code) and other illegal insults (incorporated into other rules).
Environmental offenses include, among others, evasion of the Environmental Impact Assessment System (SEIA); repeated failures to comply with it; water extraction in violation of regulations; contamination of soil and water sources; and damage to national parks and protected natural areas.
In the case of the other criminal offenses, the offenses relate to amendments to the Organic Law of the Superintendence of the Environment, such as concealment and/or submission of false information in the environmental assessment process; splitting of projects; non-compliance with sanctions and precautionary measures; and obstruction of enforcement actions by the Superintendence of the Environment (SMA).