Actualidad Chile

Criminal sanctions on conduct that is seriously harmful to the environment


To address the lack of specific legislation in the country, the Chilean government presented a Bill at the beginning of the year with criminal sanctions on conduct that seriously harms the environment. The bill, which aims to be an instrument of dissuasion and prevention, has three key goals:

  • To create criminal sanctions for environmental damage
  • To include environmental felonies in Act 20,393 which establishes the criminal liability of legal persons
  • To give more teeth to the role of the Environment Authority as the specialist body

Environmental damage

The bill provides for criminal sanctions against anyone causing loss, reduction, detriment or significant impairment to the environment. Sanctions may consist of custodial sentences ranging from 1 to 40 days and a fine of 501 to 700 monthly tax units (MTU)*, unless the acts are deemed to be caused by negligence, in which case the sentence will range between 1 and 20 days, and the fine will be 100 to 500 MTU.

The sentences will rise to a custodial sentence of between 21 and 60 days and a fine of 801 to 100 MTU if the damage affects specially protected areas, except when the damage is caused by negligence, in which case the sentence will be 21 to 40 days and a fine of 701 to 800 MTU.

Criminal liability of legal persons

Environmental felonies are added to the legislation over the criminal liability of legal persons, so that these include in their felony prevention models the activities or processes which lead to or increase the risk of committing an environmental felony. The bill stipulates that this model should contain, at least:

  • The designation of a person in charge of prevention who can act independently of the legal person's management
  • A definition of this officer's resources and powers
  • A system for preventing felonies and the manner of this supervision and certification

Non-compliance by legal persons with their duties of managing and supervising all of the above could lead to temporary debarment from any kind of business in the public sector, the loss of tax breaks or the absolute prohibition from receiving these, together with fines of between 400 and 40,000 MTU.

Environmental Authority

Lastly, the regulation confers a leading role to the Environmental Authority (EA), giving it, among other functions, the specific duty of instigating criminal action for environmental damage, because it has the technical know-how and experience in the criminal courts to investigate and establish whether there is grievous harm or not.

Furthermore, the bill sets out sanctions against those who submit false information to this body or those who put obstacles in the way of investigation, which may consist of short prison sentences and a fine of between 100 and 500 MTU, or a fine of between 100 and 500 MTU, respectively.

* 1 MTU = approx. 47,000 Chilean pesos (approx. USD 71)