San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Liberation legislator renounces immunity in extortion case

Jorge Angulo, a National Liberation Party legislator from the Puntarenas province, has renounced his immunity in a case regarding alleged extortion.

The renouncement arrived Monday morning in a letter addressed to Legislative Assembly President Juan Mendoza. At a press conference last Thursday, Angulo said he would not renounce his immunity. Things changed on Friday when Angulo said he would make a renouncement on Monday.

An investigation by the daily La Nación revealed that Angulo was involved in a series of criminal and civil scandals beginning in 1974. Monday’s letter states that Angulo’s renouncement of immunity only applies to the extortion case involving construction company COIN KRJ, S.A.

The Chief Prosecutor’s Office has opened at least two investigations of Angulo’s activities. The first case alleges that the lawmaker demanded kickbacks from construction company COINKRJ, S.A., which was granted a concession to build the Italian-Costa Rican High School in San Vito de Coto Brus, in southern Costa Rica. 

The school would have provided education to 250 local students, but despite receiving the green light from the Education Ministry, Angulo allegedly pressured to have the project halted, La Nación reported. He said he had stopped the school from being built to reduce public spending. 

Company managers tell a different story. They say Angulo called them to demand kickbacks to move the project forward. Company spokesman Jorge Sandoval said Angulo demanded ₡5 million ($9,800). 

A second investigation focuses on a $1,900 personal hotel bill initially charged to taxpayers. According to La Nación, Angulo and his family spent several days at the Sierra Resort and Casino in the southern Pacific port city of Golfito and charged it to the Southern Zone Development Authority, a government agency that operates Golfito’s duty-free zone.

Angulo and hotel administrators said the bill made out to the government agency had been a mistake. A new bill was issued to Angulo in the same amount.

On Thursday, Angulo and his attorney, Rafel Giraud, addressed reporters at the Legislative Assembly. The lawmaker, who was accompanied by members of his family – including his mother and 10-year-old daughter – said he would not waive his immunity from prosecution. His voice heavy with emotion, Angulo read from a prepared statement and claimed to be a victim of “an incomplete investigation by La Nación.” Giraud read from a press release titled “Chronicle of a Witch Hunt.”

Both men refused to answer questions from reporters. Bodyguards ushered Angulo out of the assembly through a back door. 

According to a spokeswoman from the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, both investigations are moving forward, and formal charges could be filed soon at the Supreme Court.

As Angulo wavered about the status of his immunity, 46 legislators from several political parties agreed last week to vote in favor of removing his immunity should the court ask them. Lawmakers would have needed only 38 of 57 total votes to do so.

“This scandal was no surprise to me,” said Jorge Gamboa, a Southern Zone legislator, earlier in the week. “I am from the south too, and we all knew that there was suspicious behavior associated with Angulo during his campaign. There was a lot of money at stake.”

Liberation party leaders said they have known of the developing scandal for weeks. “Three weeks ago we talked with Angulo about the issue, and we decided to wait for the Prosecutor’s Office investigation,” Liberation Secretary General Antonio Calderón said.

Angulo’s rise to lawmaker was in many ways a stroke of luck. Not a leading candidate during internal party voting, Angulo became an official Liberation candidate in 2010 elections after two other candidates were dropped from the party ballot. Angulo became a last-minute addition to Liberation’s candidates list on Aug. 21, 2009.

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