Chile’s SQM decides not to hire ex-Chairman Ponce as adviser

Image from archives.

SANTIAGO, June 22 (Reuters) – Chile lithium miner SQM said on Friday it had decided against hiring former Chairman Julio Ponce as an adviser, reversing a decision that had sparked criticism from politicians and Chile’s business community.

SQM announced plans to hire Ponce earlier in June, just months after the miner inked a deal with the government that increased its quota of lithium but required that Ponce remove himself and his family from decision-making at the firm.

Ponce, a former son-in-law of late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, is a controversial figure in Chile.

SQM President Alberto Salas said in a statement Friday that though the company believed hiring Ponce did not violate the terms of the contract with the government, public outcry over the decision prompted the reversal.

“Given that his hiring as an adviser has caused public differences of opinion, we have agreed that Julio Ponce will not be an adviser to SQM,” Salas said.

Ponce has held power at SQM since it was privatized under Pinochet in the 1980s and is still the largest shareholder. In 2014, he was fined for market manipulation.

State development agency Corfo, which oversees SQM’s lease in the Salar de Atacama, initially said it found that the ban that prevented Ponce and his family from decision-making at the company did not preclude him from taking on an “advisory” role.

The agency later pressed the company for more details.

Ponce’s return to the company’s operations nonetheless sparked criticism from politicians from both the governing coalition and the opposition.

Chile’s finance minister earlier this month described the move as “imprudent.”

(Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Leslie Adler)