Firm Linked to Purchase of Official’s Home

May 21, 2004

A Panamanian company presided overby Corporación Fischel’s president, WalterReiche, paid for a house being rented athalf price by the former executive directorof Costa Rica’s Social Security System(Caja), the daily La Nación reported.The house has become key in a scandalthat has enveloped the Caja in recent weeks,involving the purchase of nearly $40 millionworth of Finnish hospital equipment.The Caja in 2001 started work onProject Finland – a plan to update thenation’s public hospital equipment thatentailed obtaining a $32 million loan fromthe Finnish government and spending anadditional $7.5 million from the Caja’sannual budget. In the process of determiningwhich company the government would purchasethe equipment from, the LegislativeAssembly adopted standards that excludedall but one company: InstrumentariumMedko Medical Corporation, represented inCosta Rica by Fischel (TT, May 14).LA Nación reported last month thatFischel executive Olman Valverde hadpurchased a $735,000 home in an upscaleSan José neighborhood and then beganrenting it to Caja president Eliseo Vargasfor $2,500 a month – about half of whathomes around it rent for.Vargas resigned from his post at the Cajajust hours after publication of the report.Valverde later resigned from Fischel.Valverde and other Fischel executiveshad insisted that the home was purchasedusing Valverde’s personal savings and that itwas a completely private, legitimate transaction.BUT La Nación reported Wednesdaythat the Panamanian company, MarchwoodHoldings Inc., got involved in the transactionin mid-October of last year. On thesame day Valverde signed a contract to purchasethe home, the paper reported, thecompany wrote a check for $50,000 toIndecom, a construction company.Valverde used that check to obtain acashier’s check for the same amount, thepaper learned. Then he paid an $86,000mortgage the house had with BancoNacional. How Valverde paid that amountremains unknown, according to the paper.Marchwood Holdings wrote a final checkto the Bank of San José for $598,000. Thesame day it was written, Valverde used it to purchasea cashier’s check for the same amount,made out to Indecom, La Nación reported.AFTER a surprise raid of offices in theCaja’s central offices on Monday, prosecutorssaid they suspect a “conspiracy”among Caja employees to conceal documentsrelated to Project Finland. The chiefof the Economic Crime Department of theProsecutor’s Office, Wárner Molina, saidthe raids were the product of an anonymoustip they had received about the concealmentof documents.Prosecutors had conducted surpriseraids on the offices of the Caja and Fischel,as well as the homes of Vargas, Valverde,and a Fischel executive named RandallVargas two weeks ago.

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