Former Alcatel Executive Faces Charges in U.S.

December 8, 2006

One of the major players in the corruption scandals that swept Costa Rica in 2004 is facing charges in the United States for allegedly paying Costa Rican officials millions of dollars in bribes related to telecommunication contracts here.

Christian Sapsizian, 60, multinational telecom company Alcatel’s former senior vice-president for Latin America, was arrested Nov. 20 at MiamiInternationalAirport. He appeared Monday in Miami Federal Court, was freed the following day on $525,000 bail, and is scheduled for arraignment Dec. 18, U.S.-based BusinessWeek magazine reported.

His lawyer, Roy Kahn, told the magazine Sapsizian will plead not guilty, according to a story on www.businessweek.com.

A Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) affidavit states that Sapsizian offered kickbacks to an “unnamed senior official” within the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), which oversees the country’s telecom sector, in 2000. The FBI has traced $2.4 million Alcatel paid that official, as well as $2.56 million to the official’s wife, Business Week reported.

In return, the official agreed to vote in favor of giving Alcatel a contract, according to the FBI. (Alcatel won a $149 million telecom contract with ICE in 2001.)

Alcatel – now Alcatel-Lucent, after buying New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies last month for $11.6 billion – announced this week that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also investigating the payments the company made in foreign countries. A company statement released Tuesday indicated that Alcatel-Lucent will “cooperate fully in any inquiry or investigation into these matters.”

In Costa Rica, investigations into corruption allegations in the same case are ongoing, but have produced no public results in the more than two years since they began. In October 2004, former ICE board member José Antonio Lobo admitted he’d received payments from Alcatel; his wife, U.S. citizen Jean Gallup, allegedly received $2.4 million related to the Alcatel contract (TT, Oct. 8, 2004).

Lobo also testified that former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002), who had just taken office as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), accepted 40% of the Alcatel-related kickbacks (TT, Oct. 8, 2004). Rodríguez stepped down from his OAS post soon after (TT, Oct. 15, 2004).

 

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