CONAVI Director Intimidates Employees to Cover Up Corruption


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CONAVI Director Intimidates Employees to Cover Up Corruption

El Chamuko, the infernal who runs the blog “El Infierno en Costa Rica” (Hell in Costa Rica) tells the story how the director of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (CONAVI), José Luis Salas Quesada, circulated a memo dated June 5, “a reminder on the duty of confidentiality of officials”.

The memo intimidates employees to keep quiet on the “chorizos” (graft) that have been committed at the state agency, reminding staff to maintain confidentiality, failing which is a “falta grave’ (grave offence) and subject to sanctions that could lead to dismissal.

The memo comes at a time when the CONVI is being seriously questioned on the management of funds with respect to the construction of La Trocha, the border trail road.

The directive seeks to silence employees witness to acts of corruption.

El Chumako and the rest of us ask, if the director has nothing to fear, why issue such a memo?

El Chumako goes on to comment that (CONAVI) management should be like a glass box where anyone can see through it and if that principle is jeopardized, we can only conclude a cover up.

The blogger offers any and all CONAVI employees to raise their voice, come forward with their stories andcomplaints, all under the guarantee of toal anomity, so that they are not persecuted by their superiors.

“The only way to stop the corruption is making it public, not hiding behind ‘confidentialities’, write El Chamuko.


Judiciary restricts key files on crimes and lawsuits


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The Poder Judicial has quietly made private a data base that contains the names of individuals and corporations who have faced or are facing civil and criminal charges.

A U.S. private detective who does business in Costa Rica is leading a crusade —so far unsuccessful —  to have the public records again open to the public.

The data base is called the online consultation system, but a key link, that to the names of parties in court cases is not working and a notation says that this particular information is undergoing maintenance.  However, Lena White Curling, identified as the Poder Judicial’s contralora de servicios, said in an email to the investigator that the agency was just following the law.

“As I explained, Costa Rican Law (also several constitutional court rulings) has limited the court’s ability to continue providing the information you request, so complying with your request would be solely in the hands of the members of our congress (Asamblea Legislativa),” she said.

The investigator, Seth Derish, had asked for a meting with a Corte Suprema magistrate who was involved in the situation. The magistrate had not responded. Ms. White suggested the magistrate was busy with court activities.

“Under the previous system, any member of the public with access to the Internet could check the name of a person or corporation or by their cédula number to see if they had civil and criminal cases in most major judicial districts,” said Derish.   They could then get a list of documents filed in the case and whether it was open or shut.  They could not get personal data from this type of search such as dates of birth, or cédula numbers, etc. “

He noted that such information is vital for anyone doing due diligence before becoming involved in business with firms or persons in Costa Rica.

Many Costa Rican court proceedings, except full trials, frequently are closed, as are the case files. Only those involved in the cases and their lawyers may see the files.

Derish said that he had been told that the restriction was enforced because access to the data base is under review because of a law for the protection of personal data. He said he was unsuccessful in getting a copy of the directive that ordered this change.

Judicial Web page
The judicial Web page down for ‘maintenance.’

Said Derish:

“While this was an admirable attempt at protecting the privacy of all residents of Costa Rica, some agencies are taking this law too far and restricting their data in a way that will impede the public’s right to know. Making this search only available to those with passwords (just who are these people?), would mean that only government officials will have access to this information and keep the public in the dark about many things — for example, if someone is running for public office and has a criminal or civil fraud background; if your neighbor has been charged with murder or rape or child molestation; if you or a company want to do business with an individual or business and you want to know if they have any prior financial or legal problems.

“Costa Rica is already receiving a black eye in the international financial community for its inconsistent government decision regarding investors, and now this will add fuel to the fire if proper due diligence cannot be conducted by interested parties.”

He noted that much private information is readily available from the Registro Civil via the Internet. The Registro keeps information on births, deaths, marriages, divorces, cédula numbers and birth dates.  In addition local credit reporting agencies have all sorts of information in their files, including personal telephone numbers and salaries that are available for a fee.

“Only old fashioned dictatorships keep court records secret,” Derish said.  “Costa Rica can do better than that and work with interested parties to fashion a data protection law that balances the needs of an emerging democracy with that of the public’s right to know essential information.”

His firm, Costa Rica Investigations, S.A., has had an office in San Jose for 15 years.


The First of the Feasance Triplets: Misfeasance


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Let’s begin at the top, shall we. The last four presidents of Costa Rica have been investigated for corruption and two have been convicted. But how many are actually serving time?

Courtesy of The Tico Times

Rafael Angel Calderón Fournier served as Costa Rica’s president from 1990-94.

His father was also president of the country (1940-44) and is one of the most controversial figures in Costa Rican politics. He was the father of publicly funded universities, the socialized medical system, work codes, and the social security network Costa Rica enjoys today. Some might call him the FDR of Costa Rica, others hate him and consider him responsible for the Civil War that broke out in 1948. But, today, we are speaking of his son.

The younger Calderón was born in Nicaragua because his father was in exile at the time of his birth. Educated in Mexico, he came back to Costa Rica at the age of nine when his father returned to the country in 1958. He studied law at the University of Costa Rica and began his political career in his twenties. He rose to become a congressman in 1974, served two terms as chairman of the Committee on Social Affairs, and then served one term as president (1990-1994).

In 2004 the then attorney general of the country charged him and two other ex-presidents with corruption. The accusation against Calderón was for taking $450,500.00 in brides from a Finnish firm, Instrumentarium, in exchange for a lucrative $39.5 million dollar contract with the Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS), or the socialized medical system the elder Calderón helped found.

Calderón was arrested, jailed, and then released and remanded to house arrest. His trial officially began in 2008 and despite the fact that he was under indictment, he announced his candidacy for the 2010 presidential elections. However, his world crumbled in October 2009 when he and several co-conspirators from the Caja were convicted and sentenced to jail time. He walked out of court and announced to the press he was withdrawing from a presidential run because he needed to focus on his appeal.

It paid off. In 2011 the Sala III ( the equivalent of a U.S. appellate court) reduced the charges against Calderón to one charge of embezzlement and demanded he return the funds to the government. They also reduced his five-year sentence to three years, qualifying him for probation  He would serve no time. This sticks in my craw; though Calderón admitted receiving the funds from Instrumentarium, he argued the money was legitimately earned, comparing himself to a fortunate stockholder not an embezzling head of state.

The verdict did not sit well with the Costa Rican public. According to the online news service, Costa Rica, a  La Nacion telephone interview of 200 respondents, found that 62% disagreed with the verdict and 77% felt Calderón was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But there is a sense of the inevitable here. As my friend likes to tell me, “When you get into office it’s your turn. If you don’t take what you can, then you are just a fool.”

The lowdown from The Tico Times article, Former President Calderón Avoids Jail Time:

Eliseo Vargas: Former Caja president. Vargas admitted receiving at least $105,000 from Fischel Corporation after the approval of a contract with Instrumentarium-Medko Medical. He was sentenced to three years in prison after appeal. He will remain free on parole.

Gerardo Bolaños: Former member of the Caja’s board of directors. He supported the approval of Instrumentarium-Medko Medical as a supplier of medical equipment. As a reward, he received $80,000 from the Finnish Company. He was sentenced to three years in prison after appeal. He will remain free on parole.

Juan Carlos Sánchez Arguedas: Former modernization and development manager at the Caja. He confessed he received $200,000 from Instrumentarium-Medko Medical after certifying the Caja’s need for new medical equipment. He was sentenced to three years in prison after appeal. He will remain free on parole.

Walter Reiche Fischel: Former Fischel corporation chairman. He was in charge of the three Panamanian companies utilized to administer and distribute the Finnish bribes. He authorized all payments for former President Rafael Ángel Calderón. He was sentenced to three years in prison after appeal. He will remain free on parole.

Marvin Barrantes: Former manager of the O. Fischel R. Company, a subsidiary of Fischel Corporation. He received $1.4 million from Instrumentarium-Medko Medical and was in charge of distributing the bribes to public officials by using ghost companies.

Randall Vargas: Fischel Corporation attorney. He was accused of destroying important evidence. He was sentenced to a two-year prison term and will remain free on parole.

Fischel Corporation: Owner of the biggest drugstore network in Costa Rica. They represented the interests of Instrumentarium-Medko Medical.

O. Fischel R. y Cía Panamá: Panamanian company controlled by Walter Reiche. $8.8 million from Instrumentarium-Medko Medical was deposited in this company’s bank accounts. From there, smaller amounts were sent to other firms.

Marchwood Holdings: Another Panamanian company controlled by Walter Reiche. This smaller company distributed $2.3 million dollars to several public officials.

Hartcourt Holdings: The third Panamanian company controlled by Walter Reiche. This firm distributed $4.5 million from Instrumentarium-Medko Medical. From there, $440,500 was wired to Sultana Panamá, a company controlled by former President Rafael Ángel Calderón.

Sultana Panamá: Calderón’s company that received $440,500 from Walter Reiche, via Hartcourt Holdings.

International Development and Outsourcing Corp. Panamanian company controlled by Eliseo Vargas. Walter Reiche deposited $105,000 in this company’s account. Vargas said former President Calderón advised him to open this company to receive the funds from Instrumentarium-Medko Medical.

The figures listed above are interesting because none of it adds up. If Calderón, Vargas, Bolaños, and  Sanchez all collected their “consulting fees,” then where did the rest of the money go?  Their total take in the deal, according to these figures, was a measly $885, 500.00, and yet, by their own admission, Instrumentarium deposited a total of $13.3 million dollars in the various holding companies in Panama. Where is it? And how much of this siphoned money could have shored up a now faltering socialized medical system?

I have no answers but I have a lot of questions.

Let Us Count the Ways


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Imagecorruption |kəˈrəpSHən|  noun dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery: the journalist who wants to expose corruption in high places.• the action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so: the word “addict” conjures up evil and corruption.• archaic decay; putrefaction: the potato turned black and rotten with corruption.

I have decided to blog about corruption as articles become available–it should keep me fairly busy. Through the use of newspapers, TV news, and other resources I hope to shed some light on this oily subject. Believe me, the well to draw from is deep and the viscous fluids run strong, even if below the surface.

So, here we go.

Corruption, let us count the ways.

Political corruption, in which a politician abuses her public power or office, or when she uses her position for private gain either by extortion or bribery. It can also be manifested when the same politician maintains her office by suppressing or buying votes, by passing laws that change the term limits or requirements for holding that office, or by using taxpayer money to advance her personal agenda. Corruption can also disintegrate a society and become systemic, in which the entire society breaks down and there is a complete collapse of  both political and economic systems.

Many Ticos will tell you—and quite openly—that  they believe their society is corrupt from the bottom to the very top, that politicians, judges, contractors, and municipal workers are all on the take. The assumption is that anything needed can be bought through informal channels.

According to Transparency International, a corruption tracking organization that tracks “how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country/territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 10 means that a country is perceived as very clean.” Costa Rica ranks above its immediate neighbors in Central America, but has fallen in rank since 2004 when three of its former presidents were indicted on corruption charges, one convicted last year of taking brides from a pharmaceutical company.

(In case you are wondering, New Zealand ranks highest of all countries in the world. USA ranks 24th.)

Next time I’ll write about one of those three Costa Rican ex-presidents.