Nearly five years after the Comptroller General’s Office ordered the international environmental organization Earth Council to repay the state nearly $2 million for having illegally sold more than 20 acres of statedonated land, the state has yet to see a colón in the case.
The National Power and Light Company (CNFL) and the Municipality of Santa Ana donated the land to the Council in a Congress-approved act in 1995. If the Council ever left the country, the land was supposed to be donated to public or private Costa Rican institutions “whose principles or goals are similar to its” (TT, June 4, 2004).
Instead of constructing Earth Council headquarters, as had been planned at the time of the donation, the Council in 2001 allegedly passed ownership of the land to a company it owned and later sold the property to a private business for more than $1.5 million.
The Comptroller’s Office filed a $2 million suit against the Council for the value of the land and legal fees. The Comptroller’s Office concluded that the Earth Council Foundation misused the legal donation and should recompense the state.
The daily La Nación reported last month that the Foundation also received $1.3 million in government funds between 1993 and 2002.
In 2003, the Council’s lawyers filed a counter suit and the organization closed its Costa Rica offices in November of that year.
The Council now operates out of San Diego, California. Founding member Maurice Strong, whom La Nación reported was involved in negotiating the property sale, left the country.
Strong, a Canadian, was also the University for Peace (UPEACE) director at the time. The University of Peace received a total $600,000 in its Banco Nacional account the month after the 2001 land sale.
University directors haven’t commented on what the funds have been used for, La Nación reported.
Strong, 77, stepped down as U.N. envoy to North Korea while he was being investigated as part of the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal in 2005, according to U.N. spokeswoman Soung-ah Choi.
Strong allegedly received a check for nearly $1 million in 1997 from South Korean businessman Tongsun Park, who was convicted last year in New York Federal Court of conspiring to bribe U.N. officials on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s U.N.-sanctioned regime.
Since then, Strong, who has maintained that he is innocent in the case, has been traveling and is reported to be in China.
“He has many independent activities,” Choi said.“He’s been traveling on his own in lectures and other projects.”
An environmental leader, Strong is perhaps best known for having founded the U.N. Environment Programme in the 1970s and having organized the United Nation’s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which paved the way for the Kyoto Treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions believed to be connected to global warming.