State Seeks Questionable Funds

November 5, 2004

THE Ethics Branch of the Government Attorney’sOffice has undertaken an unprecedented effort to collect atleast $17.2 million believed to have been paid as “commissions”or “prizes” in connection with government contracts.Attorneys seek to collect $9.2 million allegedly paid togovernment officials and others as a “commission” for theFinland Project – involving a $39.5 million governmentcontract with a Finnish medical supply company to updatethe nation’s hospital equipment – and $8 million allegedlypaid out in similar fashion in connection with a $149 milliongovernment contract with the French telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel.WHAT will be done with the money is not clear.Former Legislative Assembly president MarioRedondo, of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC),supports a bill in the assembly to direct all of the moneyrelated to economic crimes to the country’s public educationsystem.Costa Rica’s public schools have suffered from alack of funding in recent years, particularly in the areaof infrastructure, leaving many with a lack of desks,leaky roofs and crumbling walls. Many schools areforced to fend for themselves to supply classroom and library materials.On Monday, the daily Al Día publisheda list of other potential projects the$17 million could have funded.The list mentioned ten new housingprojects, including all services and infrastructure,opening more than 1,000 newpolice posts and buying at least 150 fullyequipped patrol vehicles, or coveringhalf the construction cost of the new hospitalin Alajuela, northwest of San José,or one yet to be built in Heredia, north ofthe capital.THE state attorney heading up the project,Gilberth Calderón, said the office hasfiled civil lawsuits demanding the funds,and has requested the assets of thoseaccused of corruption be frozen untilinvestigations are complete.Calderón said his office is investigatingthe business, vehicle and property registries,and the stock market, “to see inwhich of those there could be funds relatedto these cases.”“From some of those people we arealready gathering money,” Calderón toldThe Tico Times this week. “But that doesnot imply that we will stop filing civilsuits.”Calderón was referring to funds voluntarilydeposited into a government accountby former President Rafael ÁngelCalderón, who allegedly received$520,000 as part of the Finland Project“commission,” as well as GerardoBolaños, a former member of the board ofdirectors of the Social Security System(Caja), also implicated in the FinlandProject scandal, and Hernán Bravo, a formermember of the board of directors ofthe Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE),a suspect in the ICE-Alcatel scandal.THE combined amount the three havereturned is just under $2 million, governmentattorney Calderón said. He said thefunds will remain in a court account untilthe investigations and/or trials conclude.Calderón said his office may pursuepayments beyond the monetary amountsconnected to the scandals, to compensatefor damage done to Costa Rica’s internationalimage and for the negative effectthey may have had on the number of foreignfirms interested in investing here.He said recovering the funds wouldtake years.“We believe it will be a long process,not only because of its complexity, butbecause of the number of peopleinvolved,” Calderón said.

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