San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Corruption

Six suspects arrested for fraud scheme that caused millions in losses

Officers from the Prosecutor’s Office and the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested six people during 18 raids in five provinces conducted Tuesday morning. Agents raided the National Institute for the Promotion of Cooperatives (INFOCOOP), 11 cooperatives and various homes.

The raids followed an official government intervention last month that was prompted by complaints about irregularities in a loan approval process that caused INFOCOOP losses of ₡9,300 million (some $16.4 million).

Temporary General Prosecutor Berenice Smith said at a press conference that the investigation found that the people who have been detained are part of a “criminal network that manipulated the elections of the INFOCOOP board of directors to appoint individuals who would facilitate the approval of loans for various cooperatives.”

Detainees

Prosecutors are now investigating detainees for their possible participation in various crimes, including embezzlement, influence peddling, illicit enrichment and bribery.

Among those arrested on Tuesday morning were INFOCOOP’s former president and current CONACOOP Secretary General Freddy González Rojas.

Smith said authorities have collected testimony from more than 20 people involving González “as the leader of the criminal structure he has operated for several years.”

González was also part of the campaign of the National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Antonio Álvarez Desanti, who on Tuesday evening posted a message on his Facebook profile saying he had fired González. Desanti is one of four candidates who on Sunday seeks to win the PLN’s nomination for the presidential election next year.

The candidate’s Facebook message said that all of the “accused must be completely separated [from their posts] during the investigation and for the time they exercise their right to defense.”

The Prosecutor’s Office identified the other detainees only by their last names and the cooperative or agency they belong to: León Mora (COPRENA), Gómez Ferreto (COOCAFÉ), Siles Zúñiga (COODEPAS), Rojas Durán (INFOCOOP) and Rodríguez Rodríguez (ONWARD).

The Prosecutor’s Office also indicated that there are 11 additional suspects under investigation for their alleged involvement in the case.

Investigation

INFOCOOP is a public agency charged with promoting and developing cooperativism in Costa Rica. CONACOOP is a separate body of delegates from the cooperative sector; among its main functions is to elect cooperative representatives to INFOCOOP’s Board of Directors.

The Chief Prosecutor said police operations on Tuesday allowed them to seize boards of directors’ minutes, accounting files and other documents that will help them better understand the details of the fraudulent scheme.

The government ordered an official investigation of INFOCOOP in February after the board of directors voted against a request from the Executive Branch to conduct an audit. The audit was intended to investigate a Comptroller General’s Office report from December detailing a series of problems within INFOCOOP.

These included the lack of proper instruments to assess risks on loans, the concentration of the loan portfolio in a few debtors, and delinquency problems with 20 of the biggest debtors, who received authorizations to refinance their debts.

Cautious government response

Casa Presidencial officials said after the weekly cabinet meeting Tuesday that the administration would not comment on the investigation at this time.

Agriculture and Livestock Minister Luis Felipe Arauz told reporters in a brief statement that Executive Branch officials had confirmed to prosecutors their availability and willingness to cooperate with anything investigators might require from them.

Arauz said that Judicial Branch actions and raids on Tuesday only ratify that the Executive Branch’s request for an intervention at the cooperatives’ agency “was the right thing to do.”

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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