For the second time, a San José appeals court has overturned the convictions of Costa Rica’s former President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría and four other defendants on charges of influence peddling involving the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and French telecommunications giant Alcatel.
The court on Friday declared unlawful the testimony and evidence provided by former ICE board member José Antonio Lobo, the prosecution’s star witness. That led to the overturning of convictions – based on reasonable doubt – against Rodríguez, who served as president from 1998-2002, and ICE ex-managers Joaquín Fernández and Guido Sibaja, as well as Alcatel manager Édgar Valverde and Luis Adrián Quirós, a private-practice lawyer.
The court also ordered a new trial for ex-lawmaker Eliseo Vargas García. A news release issued by the judicial branch on Friday did not mention the court’s decision on ex-ICE official Eduardo Fonseca García, and the conviction against him is still in force. The two men were sentenced to two years each on charges of aggravated corruption and illicit enrichment.
A criminal court in April 2011 sentenced Rodríguez to five years in prison for influence peddling that led to the granting to ALCATEL of contracts for supplying ICE with 400,000 GSM mobile lines between 2000-2004. At the time, the court based its ruling widely on Lobo’s statements and evidence, but an appeals court in 2012 overturned the conviction leading to an acquittal.
In 2014, the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court overturned that acquittal and ordered the appeals court to conduct a comprehensive analysis of Rodríguez’s conviction and to issue a new ruling.
Judges will read the full ruling on Dec. 9, and all defendants will then assess the possibility of filing complaints against the government seeking damages.
ALCATEL-Lucent reached an out-of-court settlement in the civil case for damages against Costa Rica and ICE in 2008, and that same year made a first payment of $10 million to the Costa Rican government. Between 2012 and 2013, the government rejected various additional settlement proposals, all under $5 million, and last August ALCATEL made an additional payment of $10 million.