San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Trial opens in corruption case against ex-Costa Rican president

The state opened its case yesterday against Rafael Angel Calderón, Jr., the first former president to be tried on corruption charges in Costa Rica.

Calderón, who was president from 1990 to 1994, is facing charges that he accepted kickbacks for helping a Finnish medical equipment firm sell goods worth $39.5 million to the Caja, the national public health care system.

“Finally, the truth can come out,” said Calderón, who maintains his innocence and has expressed interest in running for president in 2010 on the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) ticket. “The final ruling will bring peace to our household.”

The case is important, said prosecutor Juan Carlos Cubillo, because it reflects that Costa Rican law applies equally to all citizens, including leading politicians.

Seven others face charges for their involvement in the scheme, including Eliseo Vargas, a former lawmaker and ex-president of the Caja, and Walter Reiche, former president of Fischel Corp., which represents the Finnish firm in Costa Rica.

More than 300 witnesses will testify in a three-judge trial that could last up to 18 months, according to estimates by lawyers. Barring Friday afternoons, arguments take place every day from 8 a.m. through late afternoon, with two hours for lunch.

“The last time I had to follow a schedule was in the university,” Calderón said. “It´s not every day that a former head of state stands trial.”

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