Earth Council’s Land Sale Probed
NEARLY half a year has passed since the EarthCouncil suspended its mission and message of sustainabledevelopment at its headquarters in Costa Rica,unable to sustain itself here with a $1.65 million debt thegovernment claims it owes for the wrongful sale of government-donated property.Despite the organization’s expressed hope thedeparture would temporary, there is no sign of itsreturn from its new office in Canada, nor a resolutionto the controversy that clouded its exit.Decisions in two ongoing court cases involving theEarth Council could take years, according to theGovernment Attorney’s Office.THE Earth Council – created as an internationalbody to promote the environmental policies establishedat the Earth Summit in Río de Janeiro in 1992 – isaccused by the Comptroller General’s Office of illegallyselling more than 20 acres of land in Santa Ana, southwestof San José.The land was donated to the Earth Council by thegovernment for its exclusive use, or to be passed on, forfree, to a similar organization, if Earth Council evermoved, according to the Comptroller.This accusation, and the $1.65 million in damagessought by the government of Costa Rica, “has severelyimpaired the ability of the Earth Council to obtain the finances necessary to continue its operationsin Costa Rica,” according to a statementon the council’s Web site(www.ecouncil.ac.cr).CONSEQUENTLY, Maurice Strong,chairman of the Earth Council Foundation,was forced to pack up the global policyinstrument in December 2003 and move toToronto, Canada, the Web site says.Although the organization apparentlyis still in operation, repeated phone callsand e-mails by The Tico Times to offices inCanada were not returned. Strong was alsonot available at his offices at theUniversity for Peace (UPEACE) campusoutside Ciudad Colón, southwest of SanJosé, where he is president of the UPEACEcouncil.Strong is also the UndersecretaryGeneral of the United Nations, whichfounded UPEACE.He moved the Earth Council offices toUPEACE after the organization’s dream ofbuilding a model of sustainable architectureon the donated property was busted,much like the Carbon bond sales by whichthe building was to be financed.BEFORE its stint on the UPEACEcampus and the subsequent accusations,the Earth Council was riding high with thesupport of the Costa Rican government.The Legislative Assembly passed a law in1995 that allowed the Municipality ofSanta Ana and the National Power andLight Company to donate government landto the Earth Council.The law stipulates that if the Councilever decided to dissolve or move out of thecountry, it had to donate the land “to publicor private Costa Rican institutionswhose principles or goals are similar toits,” according to a resolution on the matterfrom the Comptroller General’s Office.According to the council, the administrationof José María Figueres (1994-1998)donated the land with the understandingthat the Earth Council would build itsheadquarters and an Earth Centre on thesite.Funding for these facilities was tocome from the sale of CO2 certificates inthe international market, according toEarth Council – an assertion questioned bythe Comptroller’s Office.UNDER the bond financing idea –championed by the Costa Rican governmentin the mid-1990s – industrialized,carbon-dioxide-producing nations wouldbuy bond certificates from nations likeCosta Rica and Brazil.The basic premise was that CO2 couldcontinue to be produced by industrializednations if it was “fixed” by forests protectedby the nations selling the bonds (treesabsorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen,using the carbon to increase their mass).The money could then be used by thesecountries for environmental protection andsustainability projects.After the CO2 bonds were criticizedinternationally, the administration ofMiguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002)abandoned the bond idea, and proposed theEarth Council establish its headquarters onthe UPEACE campus, according to thecouncil.The Comptroller’s Office, however,says no official documents exist to backthat assertion.WHAT happened next led to the EarthCouncil’s latest move – to Canada.With carbon-bond funding for theEarth Centre no longer a reality, the EarthCouncil decided to recover the $1.1 millionit had already invested in the project.To do so, it sold the land donated to it bythe government.However, in selling the land, the EarthCouncil did look for a similar organization,or perhaps created one.In August 2000, the Earth Council soldthe property to Gaia Tierra de Paz en SantaAna S.A., a Costa Rican corporation createdin March of that year.When it incorporated, the company’sstated objective was to promote sustainabledevelopment, manage properties andadministrate trusts.The sale of the property from EarthCouncil to the newly formed company wasadministered by Krishnamurthy Panchapake,who is both the legal representative ofthe Earth Council and president of GaiaTierra de Paz en Santa Ana S.A., as well asdirector of finance and personnel atUPEACE.THE property was in the hands of GaiaTierra for only nine months before it wassold in May 2001 to an agriculture and fishingcompany named Grupo Las Brujas, S.A.Panchapake was not in the country thisweek and The Tico Times was unable toreach him for comment. Calls to UPEACEwere all referred to the Earth Counciloffice in Canada, which did not respond.The sale price of the land in both transactionscould not be determined by presstime. In 1996, at the request of the EarthCouncil, the land was appraised by PriceWaterhouse at $1.3 million, according todocuments from the Comptroller’s office.ACCORDING to the Earth Council,the first sale was made “on the advice ofthe highest authorities of the host countryand Costa Rican attorneys.”However, the Comptroller General’sOffice responded in a resolution that theEarth Council has not proved “there existsan official document to show the CostaRican government authorized the sale ofdonated properties and the installation ofthe Earth Council headquarters in theUniversity for Peace…”The resolution adds there is no proof“there exists an official document thatshows the Costa Rican government officiallyagreed to the project to sell carboncertificates to finance the construction ofthe Earth Council headquarters.”THIS dispute has resulted in twoongoing court cases. In the first, the governmentis suing the Earth CouncilFoundation for alleged improper actionsfound by the Comptroller’s office.In response, the Earth Council Foundationis suing the state, calling for suspensionof the Comptroller’s resolutions.While the Earth Council hopes the situationwill be resolved soon, theGovernment Attorney’s Office this weeksaid it could take years.
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