The corporation whose 2006 mining concession cost former Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Minister Roberto Dobles his job has been accused of causing “disastrous” environmental damage to the same river where it was authorized to mine rock, gravel and sand.
But despite nearly three years of complaints and official reports from government agencies that back up the allegations, it appears that no formal charges have been filed.
The vicepresident of the corporation, called Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal, is Jorge Dobles, the former minister’s uncle and President Oscar Arias’ cousin. President Arias and Roberto Dobles are second cousins.
According to dozens of public documents included in a criminal complaint filed late last year, Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal is just one of a large network of corporations and businesses controlled by family members and business associates of both Dobles and President Arias.
Former Minister Dobles was forced to step down after Channel 7 TV News reported the ties between Dobles’ family and Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal.
Legislators with the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) have accused Dobles and Arias of breaking Costa Rica’s anti-corruption law – which prohibits government officials from favoring themselves, their spouses and their family members – and of defying an ethics decree that Arias issued less than a month after taking office in May, 2006 that said officials should not make decisions “with the intention of obtaining a financial or material benefit of any type for themselves, their family or their friends.”
PAC has called on President Arias to voluntarily send the case to an ethics review board created by the decree, but Arias, who called the allegations “a joke” has refused. PAC has instead asked the Public Ethics Attorney’s Office, a part of the Government Attorney’s Office, to review the case. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office, meanwhile, is investigating the criminal allegations.
A River Runs Dry
Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal is also facing charges of environmental damage in complaints that have been lodged with the Puntarenas prosecutor’s office and the Environmental Tribunal.
In 2003, the corporation withdrew a request for a concession to use water from the AranjuezRiver, and instead joined at least five other corporations in forming the Sociedad de Usuarios De Agua Rio Aranjuez –whose name literally translates as the Rio Aranjuez Water Users Corporation. That corporation received a concession in December 2003 to use water from the river to supply a sugar mill and irrigate farms.
The AranjuezRiver drains from the Tilarán Mountain Range into the Gulf of Nicoya, meeting the ocean at a protected mangrove estuary just north of the Pacific port city of Puntarenas.
According to reports from police and the Esparza-Orotina regional office of the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET), the companies built canals and split the AranjuezRiver in two to draw an unmonitored amount of water to their farms.
According to a 2008 report from a visit by MINAET officials, the river below where the farms drew their water was left “totally dry and rocky, without pools and without any sign of aquatic life.”
“The environmental damage caused by the (Rio Aranjuez Water Users Corporation) … is irreversible damage that deserves to be punished with the full weight of the law,” the report said. “The commission of this serious crime against this important ecosystem can be considered, environmentally, disastrous harm to all of the biodiversity in the area.”
That report, sent to the Environmental Tribunal in April 2008, followed a similar report from the same office sent to the Puntarenas office in 2007.
Erick and Carlos Morice, two brothers from the area, say they have been filing complaints with authorities since 2007, but believe that nothing has been done because of the corporations’ political ties.
“The complaints make it to San José, and there absolutely nothing is done,” said Erick Morice.
The Morice brothers also presented the criminal complaint against President Arias, Dobles and other officials for allegedly favoring family business interests by granting mining concessions to Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal and other corporations. Carlos Serrano, the director of the Esparza-Orotina MINAET office, confirmed that his office had filed the reports on the environmental damage at the AranjuezRiver with both the Environmental Tribunal and the prosecutor’s office.
“The prosecutor’s office came to do an inspection, but could not enter the area because it was raining very hard,” Serrano said, adding that his office was responsible only for passing the report along to the proper authorities.
The Environmental Tribunal did not respond by press time to a request for information on the case, and The Tico Times could not reach anyone at the Puntarenas prosecutor’s office.
A Network of Influence
The legal representative for the corporation that received the concession on the AranjuezRiver is Mario Miranda, who is also the representative of Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal.
Miranda is also listed as the president of the corporations Agrícola El Palmar and Azucarera El Palmar. Azucarera El Palmar, a sugar producer and exporter, owns Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal.
Azucarera El Palmar and Agrícola El Palmar are owned by the same four corporations: Compañia Comercial Majorca, Inversiones Jorhil, Inversiones Anhanguera and Moravil, according to National Registry documents included in the complaint.
Moravil was founded by Dobles and his mother Yolanda Dobles, and his brothers Manuel and Carlos Dobles are listed as president and treasurer, respectively, after 2006. Prior to then, the former minister was president of the corporation, according to National Registry documents.
Azucarera El Palmar is also one of four corporations that each own one quarter of the shares of a corporation called Guanazucar, a sugar company where Rodrigo Arias, the president’s brother and current Minister of the Presidency, was listed as president until stepping down in May of 2006, the same month the Arias brothers assumed their positions.
Mario Miranda is listed as Guanazucar’s treasurer.
Another quarter of Guanazucar’s shares are held by a corporation called Ingenio Taboga, a family business of the Arias’ where Rodrigo Arias was listed as president from 1974 until May 2006. President Oscar Arias’ daughter, María Andrea Arias, is currently the corporation’s comptroller, according to documents included in the criminal complaint.
The network of corporations is linked to two more presidencies by Manuel Emilio Rodríguez, who served as either the legal representative or notary for Azucarera El Palmar, Agrícola El Palmar and Inversiones Jorhil. Rodríguez, who died in 2000, was the brother of former president Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002), who spent six months in preventive prison awaiting trail for charges of corruption. Rodríguez was also the father of Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, who served as environment minister in the Abel Pacheco administration (2002-2006).
Various corporations in the network received mining and water concessions during those two administrations. Those concessions are given final approval with a signature for the president and environment minister.
According to an investigation by PAC, the mining concession awarded to Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal in 2006 is worth as much as $10 million, based on the amount of rock, sand and gravel the company is allowed to draw from the river over the length of its five-year concession.
MINAET spokesman Mario Zaragoza, however, said in a statement defending the former minister after his resignation that the market value of the materials mined so far is about ¢6 million, or about $10,700.
Layers of Corporations: When Environment Minister Roberto Dobles and President Oscar Arias, who are second cousins, awarded a mining concession to the corporation Agricultura Mecanizada Chapernal, they benefitted a network of corporations with ties to business associates and relatives. Dobles founded Moravill with his mother, while two brothers and his wife currently serve as officers, and he served as president until 2006. Moravill partly owns Azucarera El Palmar, which entirely owns Agricultura Mecanizada. Azucarera El Palmar owns 25 percent of the shares of Corporación Guanazucar. Another 25 percent is owned by Ingenio Taboga. Arias’ brother and Presidency Minister, Rodrigo Arias, served as president of Ingenio Taboga and Guanazucar until 2006.