San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

SUGEF Asks Church To Return Funds

THE Costa Rican Catholic Church has for years received and managed money from both national clergy and the Guatemalan Episcopal Conference through an unauthorized financial practice that is now being questioned by authorities, the daily Al Día reported.


For five years, the Costa Rican Episcopal Conference has received money from the Guatemalan Catholic Church, which, along with funds collected from local clergy and laymen, were invested in Grupo SAMA, a Costa Rica-based investment firm. Grupo SAMA invested the money in other companies and returned earnings to the church.


Last August, the Superintendence of Financial Entities (SUGEF) ordered the Costa Rican Episcopal Conference to return the money collected here, under the allegation that it is carry out illegal financial intermediation, Al Día reported. The church was given four months to return the money, and last month asked for an extension.


The church would not confirm to Al Día how much has been invested with SAMA, however estimates put the figure at $90 million.


Monsignor Francisco Ulloa told the daily they will consult SUGEF to determine if the funds from Guatemala must be returned as well. A representative of SUGEF said they only last week learned about the Guatemalan funds.


Guatemalan bishop Monsignor Mario Ríos Montt told the daily that the funds handed over to Costa Rica came from at least 20 congregations.


Local clergy, priests and laymen have invested in the questioned fund for more than two decades; it was not until December 2004 that an anonymous tip led SUGEF to begin an investigation, Al Día reported.


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