18 Costa Rican Public Officials Under Investigation by DA

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October 9th, 2012 – From the Tico Times online edition.

The District Attorney’s Office is currently leading a series of active investigations for various crimes against 18 current and former government officials, all of which are members of the National Liberations Party, or PLN (Partido de Liberacion Nacional), the political party of current president, Laura Chinchilla.

Among them, some names are sure to stand out: Luis Liberman, current vice-president of Costa Rica, ex-president Oscar Arias, ex-minister of the Presidency, Rodrigo Arias, the mayor of San Jose and pre-candidate for president, Johnny Araya, as well as the Minister of Public Education, Leonardo Garnier.

The 18 officials are accused of various crimes while in office, ranging from fraud, embezzlement, illicit enrichment, non-compliance of duties, – even human trafficking.

Current vice-president Liberman is under investigation for influence peddling.  The investigation began in July, due to a letter of recommendation that the vice-president provided to the company Procesos, Investigacion y Asesoria CA, S.A,  which belongs to the ex “Hacienda” (Treasury department) minister, Fernando Herrero’s wife, Flor Isabel Rodriguez. The letter helped the company earn a consulting contract for the Costa Rican Petroleum Refinery (RECOPE).

The ex-president, Oscar Arias, faces three charges: breach of public duty, another for embezzlement, and one more for embezzlement of public funds. All of these are still pending resolution from a judge.

The investigations against Arias are linked to the permit provided to the Canadian company Infinito Gold, for the open pit extraction of the Crucitas Mine in San Carlos, during his government.

The ex-minister of the Presidency and current PLN pre-candidate for president, Rodrigo Arias, is being investigated for the embezzlement of public funds, which is pending judicial resolution. The investigation is linked to the payment 84 consulting contracts to officials of the Executive Branch, with funds that were part of a donation received from the Economical Integration Central American Bank (BCIE), to Costa Rica, during 2006 and 2007.

The current mayor of San Jose, also a pre-candidate for president, Johnny Araya, has eight investigations against him underway. Three are for the embezzlement of public funds, three for illegal enrichment, one for corruption, and a last one for “abnormal administrative payment.”

Part of the investigations on Araya are due to a complaint filed on July 4th of last year, when he was accused of using municipal resources for personal benefit, specifically for utilizing the services of officers from the Municipal Police and a municipal secretary in a private party, which served as a fundraiser for his electoral campaign.

Lastly, another important name on the list- the current Education Minister, Leonardo Garnier, who currently is undergoing 2 charges, which are in process in the General Attorney’s Office, for influence peddling, as well embezzlement of public funds.

His cases also involve the consulting contract that Processos, Investigacion y Asesoria CA, SA signed with RECOPE.

 

 

Computer Crimes Act Unconstitutional?

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Photo courtesy of El Periodicocr.com

Some good news, for a change.

According to Periodicocr.com, The president of the Institute of Press and Freedom of Expression (IPLEX), Alejandro Delgado Faith, filed a constitutional challenge to the recently signed Computer Crime Act  for “threatening freedom of expression and free access to public Information.”

Similar in its scope to the SOPA, in the United States, or the recently defeated version in Europe, the new law is an abomination. According to Delgado, items in the new law represent self-censorship on the part of journalists, who, fearing retaliation or conviction by the courts, would prefer silence. It introduces the concept of “secret information policy” that, according to Delgado, violates the provisions of Article 30 of the Constitution and Article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights, which guarantee the right of every citizen to seek, receive, and pass on information. IPLEX is bringing the challenge to the Sala IV, Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court, to defend the rights of every citizen.

As an example of the broadness of the new law, Delgado used the recent report of the Office of Ethics against Leonardo Garnier and Vice President Liberman. According to new law, he says, that report could well be seen as political secret information.

¡¡¡ Hats off to IPLEX and hats off to Alejandro Delgado F.!!!!

Attorney General Investigates Vice President

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Things are escalating for Presidenta Laura Chinchilla.

Vice President Luis Liberman and Education Minister Leonardo Garnier are now being investigated by the Costa Rica’s attorney general for the crime of influence peddling. That was the court’s conclusion after analyzing letters of recommendation written on behalf of a business in regard to a possible ¢ 17 million contract with RECOPE. (Read this opinion piece from the Tico Times)

The case is being investigated from a criminal angle to find out if Garnier and Lieberman violated Article 52 of the Law of Illicit Enrichment (Now there’s a term for you).

If the attorney general determines they did indeed violate the law, Liberman and Garnier could be subject to dismissal and a could face between two and five years in prison. Sounds tough, but the operative word in that last sentence is “could.” They could face dismissal and could face between two and five years in prison.

Two ex-presidents have already been convicted on corruption charges and have never served any time for their crimes.

Why would these guys be any different?

MOPT and Its Bailey Bridges

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The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT) has paid almost ¢ 2.400 million for Bailey bridges to a single company over the past three years, according to TV Telenoticias 7.

Bailey bridges are the duct tape of the Costa Rican road system. Rather than rebuild costly infrastructure, MOPT often opts to replace failing bridges and gaping pot holes with the WW II stop-gap spans.

Since 2010, MOPT has openly worked with a single English supplier, Mabey Bridge, who, under the name of Mabey & Johnson, was the first major British company to be convicted of foreign bribery after admitting in 2009 to systematically paying bribes in Iraq and many other countries to win contracts. [In 2009 the company was called Mabey & Johnson, but a few months later, after the bribery conviction in England, they renamed themselves Mabey Brigde. A different name. Same player.]

According to English court documents, company executives conspired to raise the price of a contract to build 13 bridges in Iraq by 10% over their value, and paid bribes amounting to £ 365,000, or about 273 million colones.

Transport Ministry officials downplayed this to Telenoticias, assuring reporters that they did not accept bribes.

Although MOPT authorities denied knowledge of the bribery cases, MOPT has a three-year history with this company. In 2009 an investigation by the newspaper La Nacion reported that the Ministry of Transport paid more for the Mabey bridges than they were worth, a benefit to the British company. In fact, the state paid $255,000.00 more for those bridges.

The current contract with MOPT–open since 2010– appears on behalf of Mabey Bridge.

In 2010 MOPT began buying bridges: ¢ 481 million to buy three bridges in 2011, then ¢ 1.000 million for five more bridges, and in 2012, ¢ 916 million for more bridges. Nearly 2,400 million colones in Bailey bridges.

And where are those 13 bridges?

Costa Rica is waiting for MOPT to say. Two of them are spanning the sinkhole on the General Cañas Highway–what a disaster that is!–but what about the others?

Apparently some have replaced suspension bridges in rural areas but MOPT is vague on specifics.

The Comptroller General is asking questions.

At What Price?

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Presidenta Laura Chinchilla is in problems. Again.

Chinchilla’s party, Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), has no majority in the legislature. Therefore, she must rely on the opposition to pass legislation, and the opposition has just announced they will not pass her much needed financial Plan B if she does not dismiss both her vice-president and her minister of education.

I posted on Sunday that the Council of Ethics found two of her ministers guilty of violating Costa Rica’s code of ethics. Both men wrote letters of recommendation to the state-run oil refinery, RECOPE, recommending the services of a former colleague and his wife. Almost immediately after the council offered up its opinion, Chinchilla announced that her ministers did nothing intentionally wrong nor acted with malice.

But she has a problem.

According to Inside Costa Rica, the opposition plans to withdraw support of “… the government’s financial Plan B and the planned sale of US $4 billion in Eurobonds which the government hopes will help realize savings on its interest payments. Costa Rica planned to sell an initial US $500 million before the end of 2012. ”

So far, Presidenta Chinchilla is holding her ground and continues to maintain her ministers did nothing wrong, but how long can she hold out, and what will happen to the country’s financial situation just to maintain her pride?

Over the past two years of her administration 11 out of her 23 ministers have been fired, forced to resign, or resigned voluntarily.

Is It Unethical or Not?

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Vice President Liberman and Minister of Education Garnier- Courtesy of Inside Costa Rica

Several Costa Rican newspapers reported last week that the sitting vice-president and the minister of education violated the Costa Rican code of ethics.

Last week the Procuradoría General de la Ética (Attorney General of Ethics) announced that Vice-president Luis Liberman and Minister of Education Leonardo Garnier wrote letters of recommendation to Costa Rica’s state-owned oil refinery, RECOPE. The letters in question recommended that RECOPE hire a certain company to provide their marketing services.

And who owned this “certain company” being touted as a must hire?

Why, none other that the former minister of finance, recently sacked (April 2012) because he undervalued his house to avoid paying taxes. Our ex-minister of finance and his wife were seen by the sitting vice president and the minister of education as the perfect pair to provide RECOPE with marketing services.

In a statement on Radio Reloj, Attorney for public ethics, Gilbert Calderon, said, “The letters are not letters of experience but letters of recommendation which are prohibited by Costa Rican law,”  Not long after he issued his statement, President Laura Chinchilla announced that there was no bad faith or malice involved. It has come to light that one of the people involved in the recommendation process was her own brother, Adrian Chinchilla.

Here is a cartoon making the rounds.

“Goodbye report of Attorney General of Ethics.”

It makes fun not only of Chinchilla’s disregard for the Procuradoría General de la Ética, but also the shoddy work done on the new–supposedly modern– highway from San José to the Pacific. The large sink hole you see is real; the government has spent the last week trying to shore up the edges and find alternate routes around it.

The road has been plagued with problems since its construction and there are investigations going on into possible corruption in its making.

You think?!

Is There an Ethical Way to Launder Money?

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It has come to light that a major drug cartel, Los Charros, is using Costa Rican churches to launder its drug money.

Costa Rica has long been a conduit for drugs making their way north. Like Panama, the country has the unfortunate distinction of being an isthmus, therefore drugs either run up the middle or along the coasts making their relentless way to market, The United States.

According the this morning’s Costa Rica Star, “The network has used transportation companies, construction companies and hardware stores to launder its dirty money, but now they have found a new method. Los Charros have been cleaning and hiding their drug money by buying and registering real estate, automobiles and other properties under the names of Evangelical Churches. So far, one Evangelical foundation has been uncovered as a participant in the cartel’s criminal activities. There may be more religious foundations being used as money laundering fronts that have not yet been detected.”

This writer is reminded of the great line by Joe Polito, the actor who plays a minor hood named Johnny Caspar in the great Coen brother’s film, Miller’s Crossing. Casper is outraged that a fix he put on a horse race has not resulted in a guaranteed win. He says to his boss, “I’m talkin’ about friendship. I’m talkin’ about character. I’m talkin’ about – hell. Leo, I ain’t embarrassed to use the word – I’m talkin’ about ethics.”

Yes, let’s have some ethics in the drug trade. Please. What’s wrong with asking that hospitals, mortuaries, nursing homes, and, yes, even churches be exempt from these activities. Otherwise, I will not feel comfortable putting money in the collection plate next Sunday. Just saying.

Cocaine Ring Led by Physician: when getting a prescription filled has a whole new meaning

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Pretty easy pickings for my post today.
From the English language daily online news, A.M. Costa Rica, this morning:

Investigators say cocaine ring was led by a Caja physician
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

When anti-drug agents detained a woman in Río Claro de Golfito June 17, they got the information they needed to roll up an extensive cocaine smuggling operation.

The investigation culminated Wednesday with the arrest of 23 persons all over western Costa Rica. All face allegations of international drug trafficking.

The leader of the organization was identified by the last names of Ramírez Araya, a physician with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social. He works at a clinic in Corredores and at the hospital in Ciudad Neily.

The woman who was detained June 17 was identified by the last names of Martínez Martínez. She was reported to be the companion of the physician.
Judicial Investigating Organization agents conducted raids, searches and arrests in Puntarenas, Jicaral, Lepanto, Paquera, Cóbano and Paso Canoas. Jorge Rojas, director of the judicial police said that at one location agents were confronted by a suspect who threatened them with a firearm. But no shots were fired. Agents confiscated shotguns, pistols and even an AK-47, they said.

The Poder Judicial said that the suspects were being questioned in the late afternoon by prosecutors in Puntarenas.

Agents allege that the physician used his location near the border with Panamá to import cocaine from there for the local market.

Ms. Martínez was transporting eight kilos of cocaine when she was arrested, agents said. The Poder Judicial said that the organization imported and distributed 25 kilos a week.

CONAVI Hired Six Rookies with no Equipment

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Apparently, the threatening memorandum send out to CONAVI employees that I referred to yesterday has not had its desired effect. There must have been a leak at the roads department.

This morning the daily La Nacion reports that CONAVI, when contracting work on the new road on the Nicaraguan border, otherwise known as route 1856, contracted with six rookie construction companies, four of which had no equipment and had never before worked for the state. In fact, two of the companies did not even exist until a year after the construction of the road began.

It appears to this writer that favors were done for men who wanted to get started in the construction business, and the government agency bankrolled them to the tune of ¢ 2,800 million colones.

The road, or trail, is a disaster and questions are being asked.

For good reason.

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