December 17, 2018 / 5:16 PM / 6 months ago

Chilean prosecutors allege possible Iranian oil link to intoxications

Dec 17 (Reuters) - Chilean law enforcement officials are investigating the delivery of Iranian crude oil to the state energy company ENAP as a possible source of the noxious fumes that caused hundreds of people to seek hospital treatment in August, the prosecutor's office told Reuters.

Police and prosecutors raided ENAP's oil refinery and maritime port in Hualpen and Talcahuano, two adjoining towns 315 miles south of Santiago, early on Monday morning, ENAP confirmed.

Enrique Pena, a spokesman for the Bio Bio prosecutors' office, said the prosecutor was examining whether there was a link between the company's transfer of Iranian crude oil to its refineries in Hualpen and Quintero, a town 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Santiago, with chemical intoxications in both areas.

"At this stage, it as a hypothesis we are looking at," Pena said.

A total of 508 people, the majority of them children, sought medical treatment in Quintero and nearby Puchuncavi in August after residents reported a strong smell in the air, Health Ministry figures seen by Reuters confirmed.

The environment minister blamed a chemical leak and the environmental watchdog has said ENAP was responsible, something the company has denied.

The Bio Bio prosecutors' office gave no further details about intoxications it said had also taken place in August in Talcahuano.

ENAP confirmed the police raid on Monday in a statement sent to Reuters, and said none of its operations had been affected.

"We have, as always, handed over all information that was required, and reiterate our willingness to cooperate with the authorities," it said.

ENAP is the main oil refiner in Chile, which imports nearly all the fuel it consumes.

The United States re-imposed sanctions on Iranian oil exports last month to punish Tehran for its involvement in several Middle Eastern conflicts, but relaxed restrictions for some of Iran’s biggest buyers - China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey - amid fears of a price spike.

ENAP did not respond to questions from Reuters about its Iranian oil purchases. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing and Fabian Cambero Editing by Bill Trott)

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