Costa Rica’s ombudswoman resigns amid tax fraud probe

July 7, 2014

Ombudswoman Ofelia Taitelbaum on Monday morning submitted a letter of resignation to the Legislative Assembly just days after lawmakers and Judicial Investigation Police announced they would open an investigation into allegations that she had committed tax fraud.

Taitelbaum sent the letter to Assembly President Henry Mora, stating that she was stepping down “in the interests of transparency” and so that the investigation against her could be “conducted without tarnishing the work of the Ombudsman’s Office.”

Taitelbaum is under investigation for allegations of tax fraud after several members of the news media last week reported on the apparent use of forged documents and signatures to issue payments for professional consulting services to a person who denied receiving them.

The Frauds Section of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) opened an investigation after María de los Ángeles Otárola Soto, 51, a seamstress who currently is unable to work due to health problems, discovered that corporations linked to Taitelbaum had used Otárola’s name on tax returns.

Otárola said she detected the situation last December when her son attempted to include her in his health insurance coverage with the Social Security System, or Caja, in the northern canton of San Carlos, in Alajuela.

On Jan. 7, Caja officials rejected the request, saying Otárola already appears registered with the Tax Administration with financial activities of several million colones.

Officials told Otárola’s son that someone has been filing tax returns in her name since 2004 for professional consulting services for a corporation named Inversiones Beyof, of which Taitelbaum is president.

Otárola said it is impossible for her to provide those services because she never graduated from elementary school.

“The only advice I can provide is how to clean windows and floors,” Otárola told several members of the news media last week.

In her resignation letter, Taitelbaum said: “Questions related to corporations in which I am a member have arisen. Out of respect for the Ombudsman’s Office – an organization that I love – out of respect for citizens, for my family and for myself, and to prevent any harm to the public image and credibility of the Ombudsman’s Office, I have made this difficult decision. I will defend my good name and my family’s name in the courtrooms as an ordinary citizen.”

Taitelbaum was first named ombudswoman in 2009, and lawmakers re-elected her on April 27, 2014, for four more years.

The agency currently has no one to replace Taitelbaum, as lawmakers have yet to appoint an assistant ombdusman. Luis Gerardo Fallas’ term as assistant ombudsman expired on April 27.

Read the entire letter of resignation (in Spanish) here:

Ofelia Taitelbaum resignation
(Via Legislative Assembly)
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