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Chilean regulator draws up environmental charges against SQM: reports

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile's government has decided to draw up charges against lithium giant SQM for a series of alleged environmental violations that could result in fines of up to $22.2 million, Chilean media reported on Saturday.

Chile's SMA environmental regulator is accusing the company of extracting more brine than legally permitted at its SQM Salar Atacama project in northern Chile for a period of time starting in 2013, Chile's La Tercera and Pulso newspapers said.

The SMA is also drawing up charges against the operation for delivering incomplete information to authorities regarding nearby plant life, water extraction and well levels, the papers reported.

Total penalties arising from the charges could be as high as 15 billion pesos ($22.2 million).

The SMA could not be immediately reached for comment.

SQM said in a statement it would respond to all charges and that its operations had caused no environmental harm.

"The company will respond at the appropriate time to the observations and charges brought about by the environmental authority and will implement all the changes that are necessary to affirm its total commitment to compliance with the relevant environmental laws," the company said.

"We have the firm conviction that none of the infractions cause environmental damage attributable to the company."

The charges come as SQM is facing arbitration proceedings in Chile with government-run economic development agency Corfo over leasing payments, as well as an investigation over whether it exported lithium without proper authorization.

Currently, the company is moving into new countries and products and taking steps to increase corporate transparency as it tries to allay concerns about allegedly opaque business practices.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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