Costa Rica’s communications minister resigns after presidential flight tied to businessman with suspected drug cartel links
Announcing his resignation Wednesday evening, Communications Minister Francisco Chacón, speaking at a press conference, said he “was deceived by a representative of the Canadian firm THX Energy,” the company that he earlier said had “collaborated” with a private jet that President Laura Chinchilla used for a trip to Peru over the weekend.
Chinchilla and a small entourage traveled to Peru – departing Friday – to attend the wedding of Vice President Luis Liberman’s son. The trip was not included in a previously distributed official presidential agenda, and journalists only learned about it the day the president left. While she was in the South American country, Chinchilla met briefly with Peruvian President Ollanta Humala on Monday. She was accompanied by Chacón, his wife, Anabel González – Costa Rica’s minister of foreign trade – and other advisers.
In a brief statement on Wednesday, Chacón said that the person he met to coordinate Chinchilla’s trip in the private jet owned by THX Energy identified himself as Ricardo Ofalán, but that his real name is Gabriel Ricardo Morales Fallón, a Colombian businessman currently under investigation for alleged links to Colombian drug cartels.
Chacón admitted he “did not verify the identity of the company’s representatives,” and that he was not responsible for the arrangements for the use of the plane.
But as news of the strange logistical arrangements and the last-minute nature of the trip surfaced over the weekend, Chacón sought to downplay the controversy, saying earlier in the week that it was simply a matter of “collaboration between a private-sector company and the president.”
THX Energy also supplied Chinchilla with a private jet when she attended the funeral of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on March 8, in Caracas.
On Wednesday, Libertarian Movement Party lawmaker Patricia Pérez filed a criminal complaint at the Chief Prosecutor’s Office against Chinchilla for alleged conflict of interest and for allegedly receiving gifts from the Canadian company. The government Public Ethics Office also opened an investigation of Chacón and González.
According to the daily La Nación, Morales has entered Costa Rica 100 times in the past five years and solicited residency here. The online publication that broke the story, crhoy.com, said that Morales is now a nationalized Costa Rican and lives in the southwestern San José suburb of Santa Ana.
According to crhoy.com, Morales was a co-founder and former legal representative of Thorneloe Energy – which later changed its name to THX Energy – and was questioned by authorities in Colombia over suspected money laundering.
Colombian press reported that Morales first appeared on investigators’ radar in 2003, after he imported millions of dollars of Skoda brand luxury automobiles, crhoy.com reported.
He ran into legal troubles again in 2009, after allegedly misappropriating oil company funds.
Morales also was investigated for alleged links to a drug-trafficker nicknamed “Chupeta,” according to La Nación, citing Colombian media.
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