Former President’s Law Offices Raided
FINANCIAL crimes investigatorsworking both here and in Panama haverevealed a tangled web of payments madethrough accounts in Panama, Costa Ricaand the Bahamas, all related to the corruptionscandal sweeping the Costa RicanSocial Security System (Caja).Former Caja board of directors memberGerardo Bolaños, also a former legislativedeputy, remains under house arrest afterlocal press reported he allegedly received$90,000 in certificates from a $9.2 million“commission” linked to a $39.5 million governmentcontract that directly benefited theCosta Rica pharmaceutical companyCorporación Fischel.Prosecutors are also investigating severalother former and current governmentofficials, including former PresidentRafael Ángel Calderón, for allegedly havingreceived large sums of money in connectionwith the contract, based on a loanfrom the government of Finland.PROSECUTORS on Monday morningconducted simultaneous raids ofBolaños’ home and Calderón’s law officein San José – Bufete Calderón y Asociados– searching for evidence related to thealleged payments.After three hours of sifting throughfiles, police seized a computer and severalboxes of documents from Calderón’soffices, and took both Bolaños and his wifeLigia Céspedes to the Prosecutor’s Officein downtown San José. A judge laterordered Bolaños under house arrest. Hiswife was released.On Sept. 5, a San José judge issued anorder prohibiting Calderón from leavingthe country, after Channel 7 News revealedSept. 4 that he had received $440,500 inpublic funds through a company he ownsand manages in Panama (TT, Sept. 10).Shortly after the raid, associates ofBufete Calderón y Asociados met anddecided to remove the nameplate from theoffice building. By Tuesday afternoon, itappeared as though the association hadbeen dissolved, Al Día reported.AS the investigation continues, thepolitical party Calderón founded and separatedhimself from last week because of theperceived scandal, the Social ChristianUnity Party (PUSC), has asked the formerPresident for an explanation as to why hereceived the funds.“The position of the faction is that weawait an explanation from Rafael ÁngelCalderón, that up to this point he has notgiven,” Federico Vargas, a legislativedeputy with the PUSC, told La Nación.“He should explain the facts to the countryand to the party.”INVESTIGATORS also revealed thatRodrigo Méndez, of the Costa RicanElectricity Institute (ICE), may havereceived $77,746 from the Finland funds,though they had no theories as to why. ICEsent out a statement in response to the allegations,saying the government companywould do whatever possible to facilitatefurther investigation, and asked Méndezfor “an explanation of the case with respectto the origin of this type of economicreceipt.”Prosecutors allege the $9.2 millioncommission was taken from a $39.5 millionloan from the government of Finlandas part of a plan to upgrade the nation’spublic hospital equipment, known as theFinland Project. In January 2002, the debtwas transferred to the state.The loan was granted on the conditionthat at least 50% of the equipment purchasedbe Finnish. Only one companycould meet that requirement during thepublic bidding process that followed: theFinnish company Instrumentarium, whichdistributes its equipment in Costa Ricathrough Corporación Fischel.INVESTIGATORS said nearly half ofthe $9.2 million requested by CorporaciónFischel executives passed through aPanamanian company called InversionesWalka S.A., owned by Fischel’s executivepresident, Walter Reiche. Reiche allegedlytransferred $4.1 million to accounts Walkaholds in the Bahamas. Prosecutors are investigatingwhere the money went afterward.Reiche was arrested in early June, suspectedof destroying documents soughtduring the government’s investigation ofthe Finland Project, threatening witnessesand bribing government officials. Heremains behind bars serving a preventivedetention order (TT, Sept. 10).The $9.2 million, which came fromInstrumentarium subsidiary Datex-Ohmeda, according to Channel 7, weredeposited into O. Fischel R. y Cía, aPanamanian company carrying the samename as a Costa Rican company establishedin 1950 that later became CorporaciónFischel.LA Nación reported Wednesday thatthe company’s former manager, MarvinBarrantes, who managed the FinlandProject for Corporación Fischel, had put$1.4 million of the commission in aninvestment account at the Banco de CostaRica (BCR), where it still sits.The Finland Project was proposed bythen-legislator Eliseo Vargas, who waslater named the Caja’s director. Heresigned the day after La Nación revealedthat funds linked to Fischel – now identifiedas part of the “commission” – hadhelped purchase a $735,000 luxury homein San José that he lived in and rented athalf price. Channel 7 News reported lastweek that another $23,700 from the commissionwas used to purchase a ToyotaRav4 for Vargas’ daughter Andrea, whichshe sold a week after her father resigned.Vargas was arrested last week andissued a six-month preventive detentionorder for allegedly interfering with a governmentinvestigation and making paymentsof $200,000 in certificates to formerCaja modernization chief JuanCarlos Sánchez.Sánchez resigned from the Caja Sept. 6.
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