San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Authorities shutter Saprissa over allegations of unpaid social security

Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja) officials closed Ricardo Saprissa Stadium Wednesday, claiming the San José soccer team owes a ¢ 720 million (more than $1.2 million) debt, just hours before Saprissa was set to play neighboring rival Liga Deportiva Alajuelense.

The time of closure was not accidental. Manuel Ugarte, the Caja´s finance director, explained that his administration chose to shut down the stadium in the northern San José district of Tibás on the day of a game so that the debtor “would feel the impact” of the measure.

Ugarte said Club Deportivo Saprissa´s owner, Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara, reported lower salaries to the Caja than his players were actually earning during the period of October 1999 to August 2004.

“Nice way to show off with sports,” the team´s lawyer, Jorge González, remarked sarcastically about the Caja´s efforts to make an example of Saprissa. He claimed that Saprissa is debt free and that the case of its alleged debt has sat unresolved in the courts for three years.

“(The stadium was) closed because the Caja feels like it. Saprissa is absolutely up to date with its regular and monthly payments,” González said.

“As the administration (of the Caja) has state authority to execute (a closure) without waiting for a verdict” from the court, the lawyer said. “This is a measure that´s draconian, arbitrary and more akin to dictatorial regimes.”

The game between old rivals – being billed as el Clásico – has been postponed until a future, as of yet undefined date. Alajuelense has requested the game be played Thursday night at the José Rafael Fello Meza Stadium in Cartago, east of San José, according to the daily La Nación.

Caja officials said the closure is not meant to affect the Costa Rica-Uruguay soccer match at Saprissa scheduled for Nov. 14, tickets for which went on sale Wednesday.

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