Karen Paulina Rojo Venegas (Antofagasta, Chile; July 9, 1980) is a Chilean chemist-pharmacist and politician. She was Seremi de Salud de la Región de Antofagasta, and since 2012 she served as mayor of Antofagasta.
On July 27, 2020, she was suspended from her position as mayor, due to the incompatibility of the exercise of the position due to a judicial investigation for tax fraud and incompatible negotiation in the framework of the so-called Main Case. On November 19, 2020, she officially resigned from office, 1 she and on January 18, 2021, she was sentenced to 5 years of effective imprisonment, a fine and perpetual disqualification from exercising political rights.
She was born on July 9, 1980 in the city of Antofagasta. Her mother, Fresia Venegas, was a basic education teacher, and her father, Osvaldo Rojo, a mechanical engineer. She is the third of four siblings.
She studied basic education at the F-96 Libertadores de Chile School in the Coviefi population. She continued her high school studies at Hrvatska Skola San Esteban College.
In 2000, she entered the Universidad Católica del Norte to pursue a degree in Chemistry and Pharmacy, graduating in 2005. In 2007 she traveled to Spain, a country where she continued with her academic training, studying a Master and a Doctorate at the University of Pomegranate. In the Iberian country she worked as a clinical pharmacist and researcher at the Virgen de las Nieves Hospital and professor at a university institution.
Shortly before the trip to Spain in 2007, she married Luis Canessa Díaz, a commercial engineer, from whom she later separated. After this, she began a relationship with Javier Brevis, an Army official in Santiago.
On March 5, 2012, he assumed as the highest health authority in the Ministerial Secretariat of Health of the Antofagasta Region, 5 serving in that position until July 11 of that year, after the Comptroller’s Office objected to his appointment for not comply with the requirements established by the regulations for said position. Specifically, according to the controlling body, her previous work in the North Metropolitan Health Service -between January and February 2012- could not be considered “sufficient to prove compliance with the requirement of experience in the field of public health demanded “.
Its management was characterized by continuous sanitary inspections of supermarkets, fast food outlets and even the General Cemetery of Antofagasta. Added to this were some decisions that generated controversy, such as the prohibition of the operation of the Enaex de Mejillones Plant, the closure of a series of nightclubs, as well as the Canil eco-lodge in the municipality of Antofagasta, and even a fine to the same municipality for burning garbage in the landfill.7
Due to the media exposure of her, there was interest on the part of some sectors of the National Renovation to take her as a candidate for mayor. Shortly after his departure from the regional government, on July 24, 2012 Rojo confirmed his intention to compete in the municipal elections, although as an independent.8 At first his candidacy was rejected for appearing as a member of RN, but after a claim to Tricel, where he presented evidence to prove that the signature on the party affiliation form was not his, his candidacy was finally accepted.
In December 2012 she became mayor of Antofagasta after winning the municipal elections in October with 47.90% of the votes, as an independent, triumphing over the then mayor Marcela Hernando (Independiente pro-Concertación) .10
For the 2016 municipal elections, she sought reelection again as an independent, after declining to participate in a primary of the Chile Vamos pact.11 She was reelected with around 28% of the votes.
Despite being considered close to the right, for the 2017 presidential elections, Rojo gave her support to the center-left candidate and senator for Antofagasta Alejandro Guillier, 13 who would be defeated.
Even with the above, starting in 2018, Rojo began to approach the UDI, 14 becoming part of the party’s bench of mayors, although he clarified that he had not become a militant.15 The UDI also began to analyze the possibility of supporting her as a candidate for the Senate for Antofagasta in the next elections.
It has been characterized by promoting patriotism and defense of maritime sovereignty, especially due to its status as a reservist of the Chilean Army, uttering controversial statements against the former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales on several occasions, even at the time the president responded her statements and invited her to speak at the Burned Palace.18 In 2019, a WhatsApp audio was leaked that dates back to 2016 in which the mayor explicitly treats as “ignorant” and “imbecile” a woman who communicated with her with in order to request housing help in the face of their desperate situation.
On June 15, 2018, Rojo was formalized for the crime of fraud to the treasury as a result of the hiring, through the Social Development Corporation, of the Main Strategic Communication Consultant, between the years 2015 and 2016, to which supposedly He would have been paid not for carrying out the officially announced jobs, but rather for advising the mayor in her campaign for re-election. Along with her, the director of the consulting firm José Miguel Izquierdo, the former secretary of the CMDS, Edgardo Vergara, and the municipal administrator, Héctor Gómez, were also formalized.20 21 On October 22, 2018, the Prosecutor’s Office requested to extend the term of the investigation of the so-called “Main Case” for three more months, 22 a situation that would be repeated in January and April 2019.23 24 On July 4, 2019, Rojo was reformed for the crime of incompatible negotiation for the same case, 25 And the closure of the investigation was again postponed, and once again in October 2019.26 Finally, on June 12, 2020, the investigation was closed in order to give way to the oral trial, 27 whose preparation hearing was held on July 13. Subsequently, it was notified that the trial would take place on September 15, 2020.28 As a result of the latter – the order to open the oral trial – the State Defense Council affirmed that the current mayor is suspended from her post.29
On December 31, 2020, Rojo was convicted of the crime of tax fraud, in relation to the services that the Municipal Corporation for Social Development of Antofagasta contracted with the company Main.30 The conviction was reported by the Oral Court in Criminal of Antofagasta on January 18, 2021, and consists of a sentence of 5 years and one day of effective imprisonment, the payment of a fine of $ 4,344,485 and perpetual disqualification for political rights.
The Fall of Karen Rojo
On November 3, the suspended mayor of Antofagasta will face a trial for alleged fraud against the Treasury. Her defense filed three civil lawsuits, one of them against the prosecution, to challenge her temporary disqualification.
The story of Karen Rojo Venegas on the political front line has two hinge moments. And both with a common denominator: the Comptroller’s Office.
The 40-year-old chemist-pharmacist, who is not a member of any party, had a strong setback in 2012, when that body objected to her position as seremi de Salud de Antofagasta, a position in which she had been appointed by President Sebastián Piñera March of that year, during his first administration.
In that month of July, the Comptroller’s Office ordered her removal from her post, pointing to a lack of work experience in the public sector, a requirement that the supervisory body demanded to perform the function of seremi. Even so, the center-right parties were watching closely how Rojo’s oversight actions generated a stir in the region, which, among other factors, that same year catapulted her to run for mayor of Antofagasta.
Up there, everything on wheels. She was elected by a wide margin and four years later she was reelected, albeit with fewer votes than the first time.
This reduction in electoral support would have been a symptom of an issue that today again has it in the political focus: a judicial investigation for possible fraud to the Treasury and incompatible negotiation, for which she was forced to temporarily leave the mayor’s office the recent July 27th. And again the Comptroller’s Office played a role in this process, noting, in March 2019, Rojo’s administrative responsibilities in alleged irregularities that were denounced by a group of councilors.
Months later, the prosecution’s investigation – originated after the Comptroller sent the information – and, finally, the formal accusation last July would follow.
The origin of the investigation is a consultancy from the Main company, hired by the Municipal Corporation for Social Development (CMDS) of Antofagasta and the Cultural Corporation of the city, which would have had as a real objective -according to the prosecution- to improve the position of Red for her re-election as communal head, facing the 2016 elections.
In August 2018, in fact, one of Main’s partners, José Miguel Izquierdo – according to El Mercurio de Antofagasta – recognized that the objective of the advisory, which had a cost of almost $ 27 million, with municipal funds, was to reposition to the mayoress for the 2016 elections.
In December 2019, Izquierdo was conditionally suspended from the process.
On the other hand, Rojo’s defense, represented by lawyer Jorge Bofill, maintains that Izquierdo and her company carried out work for the municipality and that these were accredited. “Karen Rojo has always paid personally for the consultancies that are related to her political career, and the case of the 2016 reelection was no exception. For the 2016 elections, Karen Rojo hired Cadem and Carlos Correa Bau as campaign manager. With José Miguel Izquierdo there was a preliminary conversation, but he was not hired to advise Karen Rojo, but to provide services to the CMDS and the Cultural Corporation ”, he indicated.
According to the prosecution, Rojo sought this advice after in August 2015 he met with Cadem’s Public Affairs manager, Roberto Izikson, so that that company could carry out “a survey to measure the degree of adherence for possible re-election.” , indicates the resolution of the order to open the trial.
This survey “placed it in the third place” of approval, so Izikson “suggested external political advice, proposing to José Miguel Izquierdo.”
The Public Ministry asks for seven years in prison for fraud and three years for incompatible negotiation. The trial was set for November 3.
In parallel to the criminal aspect, Rojo also faces a civil lawsuit filed by the State Defense Council (CDE), for the possible patrimonial damage caused to the Treasury. According to the agency, “contributions or state subsidies were used for political and communicational advice from the former mayor, between 2015 and 2016, whose detriment is around $ 27 million pesos.” Furthermore, the CDE joined the prosecution’s accusation.
Meanwhile, the exedil filed two civil lawsuits with the aim of challenging her temporary disqualification from the post. One of the legal actions is against the prosecutor’s office and seeks for justice to resolve whether the suspension of an authority operates automatically when the prosecution is presented or after finding certain circumstances that a court would have to support through a conviction.
The prosecution maintains that when the accusation is presented, Rojo is disqualified. However, according to her defense, what produces the temporary disqualification of the position should be the suspension of the right to vote and for that there are things that have to be proven in a trial. In addition, her lawyer points out that “to this day, Karen Rojo is a citizen with the right to vote in force and, therefore, it is not appropriate to consider her incapable of performing the function that she swore to perform.”
Rojo was suspended at the end of July by resolution of the same municipality, a body that cites articles of the Constitution, mentioning, among other things, the provision on loss of the right to vote and article 16 that points to the person accused of crimes they deserve. afflictive penalty. In her replacement, Ignacio Pozo took power, becoming, at the age of 22, the youngest mayor in the country.