New Accusations in ICE Corruption Scandal
THE investigation of alleged corruptionamong former officials of the CostaRican Electricity Institute (ICE) took centerstage yesterday with a series of raids byagents of the Judicial Investigation Police(OIJ), testimony in the LegislativeAssembly by a key figure and ICE’s reactionto the latest developments, which werestill unfolding at press time.The case involves alleged payments byFrench telecommunications firm Alcatel toformer ICE officials including JoséAntonio Lobo, a recently fired ICE boardmember and former Housing Minister duringthe administration of Miguel ÁngelRodríguez, who is also implicated in thecase (TT, Oct. 8).The allegations that officials accepted amultimillion-dollar “prize” for awardingAlcatel a government contract alsoprompted former President Rodríguez toresign from his post as Secretary Generalof the Organization of American States(OAS), effective today (see separate story).ÉDGAR Valverde, the suspendedCosta Rica manager of Alcatel, was arrestedyesterday after he testified before aLegislative Assembly committee investigatingthe case. At press time, JudicialBranch spokeswoman Sandra Castro toldThe Tico Times it was not yet clear if hewould be placed in preventive detention.Preceding the arrest of Valverde, whoallegedly made payments to Lobo andother officials while Alcatel was engagedin a bid for an ICE contract, OIJ agentsraided his house and removed a laptopcomputer, according to Channel 7 TVNews. Channel 7 reported OIJ agents conductedadditional simultaneous raids ofhouses belonging to others suspected ofcorruption in the ICE case.According to a statement released yesterdayby Alcatel’s Paris office, Valverde“has violated Alcatel’s code of ethics” andis in the process of being fired. The companyadded it has established an internalinvestigative team and will collaborate“fully and openly” with Costa Ricanauthorities.Two French judges arrived in CostaRica this week to investigate the allegationsagainst Alcatel, the daily La Naciónreported yesterday, and the government ofHonduras opened an investigation toexamine the company’s operations there.ANOTHER former ICE board memberand governmemnt minister, HernánBravo, revealed to Channel 7 News onWednesday that he received close to$800,000 from Alcatel during his time onthe board. According to Channel 7,Intelmar, a company owned by formerAlcatel advisor Leonel Barrios, transferredfunds to Empaques Asépticos S.A., ofwhich Bravo is an associate. Channel 7reported that Intelmar also transferredfunds to an account belonging to aPanamanian business whose proxiesinclude Alfonso Guardia, cousin of formerPresident Rafael Ángel Calderón, who hasbeen implicated in a separate corruptionscandal under investigation involving theSocial Security System (Caja).Bravo, who voted for the $149 millioncontract for 400,000 cellular lines that thestate-run telecommunications monopolygranted to Alcatel in 2001, served as vice presidentof the ICE board before heresigned in February. He also was a legislatorfrom 1994 to 1998 and Calderón’sMinister of Natural Resources.Yesterday, Calderón voluntarilyappeared before the LegislativeAssembly’s commission on public expenditures,but declined to answer any questionsregarding his alleged involvement inthe ICE and Caja scandals.NEW testimony in the ICE case alsocame from Guido Sibaja, a former advisorto ICE President Pablo Cob. Sibaja testifiedbefore prosecutors on Oct. 8 thatValverde gave him $200,000 for helpingensure ICE awarded Alcatel the 2001 contract,the daily Al Día reported. Sibaja testifiedthat Swedish telecom firm Ericssonoffered him money, but he had “thestrength” to turn it down.Representatives of Ericsson, whichalso allegedly paid for ICE board members’hotel rooms while engaged in a $130million bid for an ICE telecom project (TT,July 23), denied the company had offeredSibaja any money.“Sibaja’s claims are absolutely false,”Rafael Gairaud, Ericsson’s legal advisor,told La Nación.Sibaja testified he had informed Cob ofEricsson’s offer, but Cob told Al Día thatSibaja had never mentioned the incident.YESTERDAY, Cob confirmed ICEhas begun a sanctioning process againstAlcatel and Ericsson, originallyannounced last week (TT, Oct. 8), and isnow considering sanctions againstInabensa, another supplier that allegedlymade payments to former PresidentRodríguez.He stated any ICE employees againstwhom corruption charges are proved willbe fired, and that he is considering such anaction against Willy Arnáez, director ofICE’s public telephone division. Channel 7TV News reported yesterday that morethan $15,000 of payments for Arnáez’s2002 Land Rover Freelander were made byan employee of Condicel, a company thatsupplies ICE with 15,000 public telephones.Cob also announced in a letter to ICEemployees on Monday that he had openedall his family’s bank accounts and creditcards to the scrutiny of the Prosecutor’sOffice.Further cooperation with authoritiescame from Lobo, who was among the firstICE officials implicated in the scandalwhen La Nación revealed that his wife,U.S. citizen Jean Gallup, allegedlyreceived a $2.4 million payment fromAlcatel (TT, Oct. 8). On Tuesday, Lobohanded over to the Prosecutor’s Office$1.4 million of the funds he is alleged tohave received from the French firm,according to La Nación.FORMER ICE engineer RodrigoMéndez, who returned to Costa Rica thisweek after his capture in Nicaragua on Oct.8 while in possession of $157,000 cash,declined to testify before prosecutors andwas ordered six months of preventive detention.Méndez is alleged to have receivedfunds not only from Alcatel, but also fromMarchwood Holdings Inc., a Panamanianfirm that reportedly received funds from acompany implicated in the Caja corruptioncase, also being investigated by theProsecutor’s Office.
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