San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa RIca to funnel $11 million settlement into public programs

Costa Rica´s attorney general said French telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent has followed through with a payment of $11 million last week to settle a corruption case in Costa Rica.

Alcatel deposited the funds on March 9 in payment for “societal damages” – money the attorney general said should be funneled into public programs. This would help pay society back after the French company allegedly paid kickbacks to former President Miguel Angel Rodríguez and other government officials in return for a 2001 contract to provide cellular phone equipment here.

“We confirm the deposit of money and we´ve sent a note to the head of the Finance Ministry to inform them of the transaction,” Attorney General Ana Lorena Brenes said in a statement issued Friday. She added that her office is recommending that government officials spend this money with “the interest of the collective” in mind. “We would expect that it is invested in projects that have a direct impact on the population,” Brenes said.

Payment for societal damages is a recent concept in Costa Rica and is rare throughout Latin America, according to the attorney general. “(Societal damages) confirm recognition by a company or individual that they participated in acts of corruption that affect the collective,” said Brenes.

The settlement came as former President Rodríguez, who was in office from 1998 to 2002, prepares to go to trial for corruption after allegedly taking kickbacks from Alcatel to help secure a 2001 contract for the French company to supply cellular phone equipment here.

Rodríguez was expected to attend a preliminary hearing on Monday, but the court date was suspended after the judges received new evidence in the case, the newswire EFE reported.

The ICE-Alcatel trial, which is scheduled to begin on April 13, will be the second time a former Costa Rican president is placed on trial on criminal charges. Former President Rafael Angel Calderón was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement last October.

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