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.