San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Key witness says he paid Costa Rican ex-president to facilitate deal

A groundbreaking moment in the case against former Costa Rican President Rafael Angel Calderón Jr. occurred Monday, when a key player confessed to channeling money to the former leader.

Walter Reiche, then president of Fischel pharmacy company and acting in representation of a Finnish medical equipment firm, paid Calderón roughly a half million dollars to facilitate the purchase of $39.5 million worth of medical equipment by the Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja).

On Monday, he told judges at the Treasury Courts that Calderón accepted his payment and agreed to help Reiche sell the equipment to the Costa Rican government.

Reiche said during his testimony that former deputy and president of the Caja, Eliseo Vargas, recommended he approach Calderón because he was “someone who could make (the deal) happen,” according to newspaper reports in La Nación and La Prensa Libre on Tuesday.

Yet, Reiche´s testimony does not in itself prove Calderón was guilty of aggravated corruption, the charge for which he currently stands trial. To prove Calderón guilty, prosecutors must show that he distributed or caused funds to be distributed to government officials in return for assistance in closing the deal.

The transaction with Reiche´s company occurred more than five years ago, which is nine years after Calderón (1990-1994) left the Casa Presidencial.

Calderón, who was arrested in late 2004 along with former president Miguel Angel Rodríguez, maintains his innocence regarding the situation, saying the transfer of funds was payment for legal consulting services.

In a letter published on his Web site before the trials began in November, Calderón wrote, “I am happy that the end has come, the moment to demonstrate with facts, documents and evidence that I have not committed any crime…This fills me with peace and tranquility because the truth will prevail over the lie.”

Meanwhile, Calderón´s political party, the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), which quickly fell from the political stage following Calderón´s arrest, is scrambling to reinvent itself in time for the 2010 election.

PUSC leaders are expected to make an announcement about the future of the political party in an event scheduled for Wednesday.

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