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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Anti-Corruption Law OK’d as Scandal Widens

AS government investigators and themedia continue to reveal new informationabout the corruption scandal in the CostaRican Social Security System (Caja), theLegislative Assembly has passed a long -awaitedmeasure intended to prevent corruption.The assembly last week approved insecond debate the Law Against IllicitEnrichment and Corruption, which hadbeen in review since August 1999. Thelaw, according to a statement from theassembly, fulfills commitments the countryassumed in April 1997 when it ratified theInter-American Convention AgainstCorruption.Illicit enrichment, passing of legislationfor self-benefit, concealment of goodsand trafficking of influences are among thenew crimes be created by the law. Themeasure will also require public officials topresent a declaration of their personalassets.SEVERAL legislative deputies continuedto oppose the law this week, claimingit is unconstitutional.Libertarian legislator Peter Guevarathe Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) again review thelaw. He said that in a country as small asCosta Rica, the law could end up undulypunishing public officials who may unwittinglybenefit from a blood relation.“Imagine, somebody will want to beexecutive president, mayor, councilpersonor minister, when, in my case, for example,there are a ton of ‘Guevaras’ who I don’teven know,” Guevara said.Daily newspapers reported late lastweek that a foundation begun by OscarArias, who served as President from1986-1990, received $8,000 fromCorporación Fischel, the Costa Ricanpharmaceutical company that may havepaid officials from the Caja and othergovernment offices with money from a$39.5 million government contract withthe Finnish medical corporationInstrumentarium, which distributes itsproducts in Costa Rican through Fischel.Part of the money was used to purchasemore than 3,000 pieces of high-cost medicalequipment, many of which the CajaBoard of Directors later said “were notthose outlined as priority needs by thedirectors of clinics and hospitals in thecountry” (TT, May 14).INVESTIGATORS allege that $9.2million of the $39.5 million loan from thegovernment of Finland was used as a“commission” to pay high-ranking Cajaofficials, including former executive presidentEliseo Vargas, and others outside theCaja, including former President RafaelÁngel Calderón (1990-1994).The $8,000 was sent to the AriasFoundation for Peace and HumanProgress, La Nación reported, and wasused to fund a program called “SafeSchool, Safe Community,” which workedto reduce risks associated with drug trafficking,arms possession and domestic violence.The foundation returned the moneyto Fischel this week.ARIAS addressed the nation about thecorruption scandal in a five-minute paidtelevised broadcast on Monday evening.However, the former President did notspecifically address the payments made tohis foundation.“The country is covered by an alarmingsensation of uncertainty, and of a lossof honor. We are living difficult andpainful moments. But faced with them, itdoes not serve us very much to be shockedand to complain repeatedly. We must allcarry out serious self-criticism to lookahead,” Arias said.He outlined four “respectful suggestions”to help the country overcome thescandal.The first, he said, is the speedyapproval of the proposed Press FreedomLaw, which he said would allow journaliststo carry out their work with “efficiency andsecurity.” Arias called the Costa Ricanpress “vigilant and professional” and “themost effective control that exists againstthe abuse of power.”HIS second suggestion is to increasefinancial backing for the Prosecutor’sOffice, which he said works in “precariousconditions,” so the agency would be ableto carry out its duties with as little outsidepressure as possible.The third suggestion is that the recentlyapproved anti-corruption law be regulatedand put into effect as soon as possible.The fourth, is that the law be expandedto cover campaign donations.“The trafficking of influences proliferateswhen the financing of the parties isobscure and Costa Ricans do not knowwho finances the political campaigns,”Arias said.MEANWHILE, former PresidentCalderón on Monday deposited $520,000he allegedly received from Panamaniancompanies linked to Fischel into a specialcourt account in Costa Rica for review byprosecutors.Calderón’s lawyer, Gonzalo Castellón,said the deposit is not an attempt to gainany special favor for the former President,who has been prohibited from leaving thecountry since Sept. 5 because of the investigation.“If (the money) is the property of thestate, it should remain with the state. If it’sthe property of don Rafael Ángel, it shouldbe returned,” Castellón told Al Día.Legislator Epsy Campbell (PAC),along with several colleagues, on Tuesdayplaced blame for the scandal onCorporación Fischel, and asked the companyto return $8 million of the alleged commission,La Nación reported.The news of payments to Calderón,first reported by Channel 7 News on Sept.4, prompted several raids by investigatorsfrom the Prosecutor’s Office and theJudicial Investigative Police (OIJ) in CostaRica, both at Calderón’s former law officesand the bank BAC San José.INVESTIGATORS in Panama andCosta Rica have revealed an intricate webof transactions between Panamanian companies,originating from Finland and endingup in the hands of Costa Rican governmentofficials, many of whom arelinked with the Caja (TT, Sept. 10).OIJ agents and prosecutors conducteda new wave of raids this week, siftingthrough and seizing documents atCorporación Fischel’s offices in San José,the offices of Corporación Cormar, whichheld documents for Fischel, and the homeof Marvin Barrantes, a former CEO of acompany linked to Fischel.Barrantes, who may have accumulated$1.4 million of the Finland loan commission,was ordered to six months house arrestby a judge on Tuesday, La Nación reported.The judge also prohibited Barrantes fromleaving the country and ordered him to paya ¢50 million ($112,359) bond.INVESTIGATORS also raided thehome of former Caja president EliseoVargas, siezing truckloads of documentsWednesday.Vargas remains in preventive detention,as do Fischel president WalterReiche and Fischel lawyer RandallVargas. All three appealed their detentionorders this week, but the appeals weredenied.Gerardo Bolaños, a former member ofthe Caja’s Board of Directors who remainsunder house arrest on suspicion of havingreceived $90,000 of the funds, handed over$62,000 to the Prosecutor’s Office lastThursday, La Nación reported, though hisexact reasons for returning the money werenot clear.


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