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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Ex-President Figueres Implicated, 3 Former Presidents Scrutinized

Former Costa Rican President Rafael ÁngelCalderón Jr. (1990-1994) is in prison. FormerPresident Miguel Ángel Rodríguez is in housearrest (1998-2002). And former President JoséMaría Figueres (1994-1998) is now under thewatchful eye of the Prosecutor’s Office.All three – who headed the country in consecutivefour-year terms, from 1990 to 2002 – have beenlinked to the two largest corruption scandals the countryhas seen in recent memory, which some havebegun to refer to collectively as a “ring of corruption.”Both Calderón, 55, and Rodríguez, 64, have beenousted from their party, the Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC), because of the allegations. This week, formerPresident Oscar Arias (1986-1990) and 17 legislatorsasked their party, the opposition National LiberationParty (PLN), to separate Figueres, 49.A San José judge ordered ex-President Calderón tonine months of preventive detention on Oct. 22, followinghis declaration before the Prosecutor’s Office theday before (TT, Oct. 22).The former head of state is now in a private cell in La Reforma maximum-security prison inAlajuela, northwest of San José. Hisdefense team has appealed the decision.Calderón has been accused of mastermindingthe distribution of a $9.2 million“commission” connected to a $39.5 millioncontract with a Finnish medical supplycompany to update the nation’s publichospital equipment.THE week before, Rodríguez wasordered to six months of house arrest forallegedly accepting 60% of a $2.4 million“prize” from the French telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel, in connection with a$149 million government contract theCosta Rican Electricity Institute (ICE)awarded Alcatel in 2001 (TT, Oct. 22).The accusations led Rodríguez toresign from the position of SecretaryGeneral of the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS) – a post he held only onemonth (TT, Oct. 15). He was arrested justafter landing in Costa Rica Oct. 15 and hasbeen accused of the crimes of illicitenrichment and aggravated corruption.Calderón is under investigation for thecrimes of illicit enrichment, aggravatedcorruption and conspiracy, La Naciónreported.In connection with the investigationsof Calderón’s and Rodríguez’s allegedillicit enrichment, the GovernmentAttorney’s Office this week asked theJudicial Branch to freeze the assets of theformer heads of state.ALSO this week, Channel 7 TV Newsreported that between 2000-2003, Figueresallegedly received more than $900,000(¢405 million) in consulting fees fromAlcatel.Figueres provided external consultingservices to Alcatel through H.F.Desarrollos Interdisciplinarios S.A., acompany controlled by Roberto HidalgoAraya, Figueres’ advisor during his term inoffice here.Figueres admitted to having receivedthe payments, Channel 7 reportedWednesday, but said they were the resultof “an agreement between two private citizens.”He said he would place his “bankaccounts at the disposition of competentauthorities.”The Prosecutor’s Office has begun“analyzing” information about the allegedpayments made to the former President,the Judicial Branch announced Wednesday.He is the son of former President José“Pepe’’ Figueres, who served three differentterms (1948-1949, 1953-1958 and1970-1974). “Pepe” Figueres is perhapsbest remembered for abolishing CostaRica’s army in 1948.Figueres Jr. currently resides inGeneva, Switzerland, where he is executivedirector of the World EconomicForum. The forum is an independent, nonprofitorganization representing theworld’s 1,000 leading companies and 200smaller businesses, according to its Website, was not clear at press time whetherthe position affords Figueres diplomaticimmunity, although the organization’sspokesman Mark Adams said it is “mostunlikely.”According to Swiss Ambassador toCosta Rica Gabriela Nutzi, a treatybetween Switzerland and Costa Ricaallows for Figueres’ extradition upon formalrequest.THE accusations against ex-PresidentCalderón came after Eliseo Vargas, formerpresident of the Social Security System(Caja), testified before prosecutors Oct. 19that Calderón masterminded the “commissions”connected to the Finland Project(TT, Oct. 22).Calderón is the son of former CostaRican President Rafael Ángel Calderón,Sr. (1940-1944), the man credited with theinstitutionalization of many of CostaRica’s social guarantees, including nationalhealth care.The day Calderón was admitted to LaReforma, President Abel Pacheco said hewas “hurt” by the fact Calderón was sentto prison, but that it will serve as an example“to those who want to get their handsinto the money of the poor,” AFP wire servicereported.“IT’S also a message for many peoplewho, in suffering Latin America, havedone similar things. I believe that theexample of Costa Rica will be followed bymany countries,” Pacheco said.Prosecutors this week asked a judgefor the second time to put former PresidentRodríguez behind bars as well.Representatives of the Prosecutor’sOffice were in court yesterday appealingthe decision to assign Rodríguez to housearrest, arguing he also should be assignednine months of preventive detention in jailinstead. Rodríguez’s legal team, led byattorney Rafael Gairaud, requested he beallowed to post bail.As of press time last night, no decisionhad been announced.CALDERÓN remains in La Reformain an individual cell, 6.5 meters squared.“He is totally isolated from the otherprisoners and at no time will he have anycontact with any (of them),” JusticeMinister Patricia Vega told The TicoTimes.The prison system has provided individualcells in the past when a detainee’slife is believed to be in danger, as is thecase with Calderón, according to a statementfrom the Justice Ministry. Calderóneats separately and has one hour of outdoortime each day, during which theprison’s courtyards are cleared of otherprisoners.Calderón’s wife and his two daughtersvisited him this week and brought himpajamas, extra shoes, and a Bible, accordingto the daily papers.The daily newspapers reportedCalderón suffers from digestive problemsand tachycardia – a condition causing anirregular or accelerated heartbeat – and hasexperienced heart palpitations while inprison.The issue of the former President’shealth has been repeatedly brought up byhis defense team. While Castellón saidlast week that he and his client had beenprepared for the Prosecutor’s Office toask for preventive detention, he also saidhe hoped the judge would order housearrest rather than jail time, in partbecause Calderón suffers from healthproblems.La Nación reported Sunday that itscontinuing investigation into Calderón’sfinances revealed his assets include a luxuryapartment in Boston, Massachusetts,investments in a Florida hotel chain and anautomotive company in Costa Rica,although La Nación has not found anyinformation that suggests these and otherassets were purchased with illicitlyobtained funds.In a letter to La Nación publishedTuesday, Calderón’s wife, GloriaBejarano, questioned the purpose of thereport, since no links to corruption werefound, and called it “inhumane anddegrading treatment.”THE Government Attorney’s Officeasked the Judicial Branch Monday tofreeze the bank accounts and assets ofRodríguez, Calderón, Bejarano, CorporaciónFischel S.A. (implicated in theFinland Project scandal), former Fischelhead Walter Reiche, and Édgar Valverde,Alcatel’s former manager for Costa Rica.Reiche and Valverde are also in preventivedetention.The office’s goal is to try to recoverthe funds in question in the alleged corruptioncases, Government AttorneyGilberth Calderón said in a statement.This is the second time the state hasrequested an embargo of accounts in thecorruption cases, according to a statementfrom the Justice Ministry. The firstrequest included the accounts of other topsuspects in the ICE-Alcatel and Caja-Fischel-Finland cases.PRESIDENT Pacheco this week saidthe nation’s actions against corruption showCosta Rica is a model of democracy.At the Sunday inauguration of a newCaja hospital in Alajuela, northwest of SanJosé, Pacheco said, “Despite everythingthat has happened, beyond the pain it hascaused us to see the failures of people inwhom we had faith, we should realize thatCosta Rica is an institution where democracyworks.”(Tico Times reporters Katherine Stanleyand María Gabriela Díaz contributed tothis report.)

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