Corruption Fight Needs More Funds

October 22, 2004

A month after the country’s Chief Prosecutor,Francisco Dall’Anese, asked the Legislative Assemblyfor more funds to help prosecutors keep up with the corruptionscandals under investigation at that time, thenumber of cases has skyrocketed and no resources havebeen provided.What’s more, the Prosecutor’s Office is investigatingthe largest caseload in its history and there’s no sign of themuch-needed aid, which must be approved by theLegislative Assembly.According to Judicial Branch spokesman FabiánBarrantes, the economic crimes division of theProsecutor’s Office has only 14 prosecutors, responsiblefor investigating all of the corruption cases currentlysweeping the nation.THE corruption allegations involve companies fromFinland, France, Sweden, Spain, Panama and Costa Rica,and the government of Taiwan; Costa Rican governmentagencies including the Costa Rican Electricity Institute(ICE), Social Security System (Caja), and NationalTraining Institute (INA); bank accounts in Costa Rica, theBahamas, and Panama; and Costa Rican officials includingformer Legislative Assembly members and ex-Presidents.Another scandal, apparently unrelated to any of the existing cases, broke this week, adding tothe already staggering caseload. The dailyLa Nación revealed Wednesday that formerofficials of the National InsuranceInstitute (INS) are under investigation bythe Prosecutor’s Office for alleged misuseof public funds (see related story).Barrantes pointed out that the prosecutorswere investigating other cases beforethese corruption scandals broke in recentweeks, and that the previous cases remaina part of their workload.“THE prosecutors have had importantcases before, of course, but a case of thismagnitude is something different,” Barrantessaid, adding that 14 prosecutors “is veryfew people for an investigation of this size.”On Sept. 22, Chief ProsecutorDall’Anese appeared before the LegislativeAssembly to describe the lack ofresources at the Prosecutor’s Office. At thetime, the major case under investigation wasthe Caja scandal;the ICE-Alcatelcorruption casehad not yet beenrevealed.According toLa Nación, Dall’Anese told legislatorsthat the Cajascandal was consumingthe time ofthe 14 prosecutorsand that some ofthe other casesthen pending “haven’t been touched.” Hesaid the lack of funds forced some prosecutorsto spend their own money and use theircredit cards during investigations abroadand to bring their personal computers towork to make up for a shortage in the office.THE 2005 national budget under considerationin the assembly includes a16.5% increase for the Prosecutor’s Officebudget, for a total budget of $58 million(TT, Oct. 1). To deal with the lack ofresources on a more immediate basis,however, President Abel Pachecoannounced a special extra budget on Sept.28 to assist the Prosecutor’s Office.At the time, La Nación reported thatthe extra budget would finance 20 newprosecutors, seven Judicial InvestigationPolice (OIJ) agents, two judges and twojudicial aids, all to investigate corruption(TT, Oct. 1). However, Judicial Branchspokeswoman Sandra Castro told TheTico Times this week that the budget providesfor only 20 positions overall. Sheestimated the new hires would include 13or 14 new prosecutors.Barrantes told The Tico Times thisweek that none of this help has arrivedand that he was not sure when, or if, itwould.IN fact, the extra budget is still beingdebated by the Finance Committee of theLegislative Assembly, which must reach adecision and then present the budget to theassembly for approval. José Rafael Soto,of the assembly’s Budget Analysis Department,told The Tico Times that, “Unfortunately,the budget could be passed in afew days, or it could take much longer.”He estimated the budget would beapproved mid-November.Castro estimated that once theProsecutor’s Office receives the extra funds,it would take approximately a month to hirethe new prosecutors. If the assembly doestake until mid-November to approve thebudget, therefore, it could be mid-Decemberbefore the Prosecutor’s Office has additionalstaff members – right about the time thegovernment prepares to take the traditionaltwo-week end-of-the-year holiday vacation.

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