San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Mayor Scandal: Foes Deny Plot, EBI to Sue

AS San José Mayor Johnny Araya testifiedyesterday before a legislative commissionregarding allegations he acceptedkickbacks for awarding a multimillion-dollarcontract, his political adversariesdenied the mayor’s suggestions that theyare behind the accusations.Meanwhile, waste-management firmBerthier EBI, which was awarded the contractin question and allegedly made the$65,000 payment to Araya, has announcedit is opening a lawsuit against the newspaperand reporters who broke the story.Last month the daily La Nación printeda document that allegedly discloses thetransfer of payments totaling $112,800 fromEBI to Araya and nine other municipal advisorsand council members made between1999 and 2001. Six of the nine peoplenamed were city council members whovoted to approve a contract to EBI to openand manage the capital’s only landfill in LaCarpio, in western San José (TT, July 22).Shortly after the report was published,Araya told The Tico Times that formersubstitute city council member LuisBallestero, a vocal Araya opponent, andOscar Alfaro, a rival for the December2006 mayoral elections, could be the culprits.The mayor, who is a member of theNational Liberation Party, said they couldbe behind what he calls a false document inan effort to oust him from his post.ARAYA reiterated his claims the documentis false yesterday during his two-hourtestimony before the LegislativeAssembly’s Public Expenditures Commission,and again identified Ballestero as apossible source.The document is under examination aspart of a Prosecutor’s Office investigationinto the accusations.Ballestero, who has acted as spokesmanfor the man who turned the document over tothe Prosecutor’s Office, a lottery vendornamed Francisco Marín, vouched for thedocument’s authenticity this week.Neither he nor Alfaro is the source ofthe document, he told The Tico Times,adding that he will not divulge the source’sidentity.However, he admitted when pressed, “Iunderstand (the source) was a worker at thecompany (EBI).”Ballestero, a former Liberation member,said he switched over to the CitizenAction Party (PAC) because he was fed upwith the “acts of corruption” he saw in hisformer party. He has also served as an advisorto Alfaro, who owns the bus companiesTransnica and Transportes Deldu and plansto run for mayor under Liberation.THESE relationshipsbetweenBallestero and Alfaro,and Ballesteroand Marín,have led Araya tosuggest the documentcould havebeen manufacturedfor political gain.B a l l e s t e r odenied the insinuation,telling The Tico Times Araya “is mixinga professional relationship with a politicalone. (Alfaro) has absolutely nothing todo with (the document).”Alfaro also denied the suggestion andsaid it was absurd that Mayor Araya has touse his (Alfaro’s) name to defend himself.“It is unjust that he’s involving me inthis, which I have nothing to do with,” hesaid, adding that he will run a clean politicalcampaign when the time comes.Ballestero said his interest is as a concernedcitizen “fighting to improve theadministration of San José,” who believes,“as happens in other countries, that a municipalityshould be a generator of communitydevelopment and that resources it obtainsfrom taxes should be invested in the bestway possible, and this is not happening.”MARÍN first handed the document tothe Prosecutor’s Office on Dec. 24, 2004.He obtained it from the original source,asked Ballestero for advice, then presentedit to the authorities accompanied by thesource, according to Ballestero.“The person who presented it is a simplemeans (to an end); the important thingis not who took the legal action, it’s whatthe legal action is. It could have been ananonymous presentation, or a bird thatknows how to talk,” Ballestero said.The document, an alleged list of payoffsmade to Araya and others in hisadministration, is written in a mixture ofSpanish and French, and signed by EBI deCosta Rica financial manager NormandeHéroux.Araya said the mixture of languagesalso causes him to question the document’sauthenticity.Asked why it is written in two languages,Ballestero said, “You would haveto ask Mrs. Héroux. I understand that she isFrench Canadian, tried to learn Spanishhere and mixed her French with her beginner’sSpanish.”IN his first statement about the scandalto The Tico Times, EBI de Costa RicaExecutive President Juan Carlos Obandosaid this week that his company is going tosue La Nación and the three reporters whofiled the story. They are Ernesto Rivera,Giannina Segnini, who tracked downHéroux in Canada but did not get a statementfrom her, and Mauricio Herrera, whowon an International Court of HumanRights case against Costa Rica that overturneda court sanction against him forreporting on the alleged corruption ofanother government official.Herrera told The Tico Times yesterdayhe is not worried about any lawsuit andreiterated that what was published in LaNación is the truth.Obando disagrees.“What you have (in the document) isnothing but a (Microsoft) Excel format thatyou and I know anyone can sit down, placeanyone’s signature and put whatever theywant. You can change figures, you canchange whatever,” he told The Tico Times.The information is “totally phonybased on every official document we havein our company,” he said, and added thathis company can corroborate the claimwith the results of its public yearly audits.ARAYA began his testimony yesterdayat the beginning: he said the municipalitywas first introduced to EBI by officials atthe Canadian Embassy in 1998 as San Joséwas suffering from a trash crisis.That year, the municipality gave theirendorsement to the project, and EBI spentthe next 32 months acquiring the necessarypermits and approvals from myriadgovernment institutions. Araya noted that80% of these permits did not come fromthe municipality.Throughout this period and after thecontract was signed, the deal was heavilyscrutinized by various institutions, includingthe Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) and theComptroller General’s Office, which foundin favor of the contract and the municipality,Araya testified.FOR his part, Patriotic Union PartyLegislator Humberto Arce said he was veryconcerned about the connection to theCanadian Embassy. He also said that hehas information that can confirm Héroux’ssignature on the alleged payment document,despite a signed statement byHéroux saying she never signed the documentin question.Legislators also questioned Arayaabout his personal friendship with Obando.Araya testified that EBI or Obando, hecouldn’t remember which, donated$10,000 to his brother Rolando Araya’s2002 presidential campaign.Araya also said he will open his bankaccounts to investigation and return tothe commission to testify again. Thecommission approved motions to callEBI officials and Rodrigo Arias, brotherto presidential candidate and Nobel Peacewinner Oscar Arias, to testify regardingthe investigation.Rodrigo Arias and another lawyer fromthe San José-based law firm Facio & Cañaswere allegedly hired by an EBI consultantto convince the comptroller general thatthe contract between the municipality andEBI did not require a public biddingprocess (TT, July 29).

Comments are closed.