30 arrested in mega Costa Rica corruption swoop

1,443Views 2Comments Posted 16/06/2021

AFP  - A mega corruption investigation in Costa Rica, involving a presidential adviser and executives of construction firms with  Panama links, places the country on the list of Latin American nations involved in paying bribes in exchange for public works.

Those involved would have participated in a criminal system that caused, according to the authorities, budget losses of 78 billion colones (about $125 million), between 2018 and 2020.

Costa Rica saw how in 2016 Panama and other countries fell into the networks of the Lava Jato case, which shook Latin America for the payment of more than $700 million from the Brazilian Odebrecht to officials and politicians in exchange for works.

Five years later, this Central American nation has its own scandal.

'sexual favors'

According to the director of the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ), Wálter Espinoza, public employees received constant favors and bribes, which responded to a planned articulation ”.

Among the gifts are "money, vehicles, land, travel, sexual favors and what they can imagine so that a company could benefit," says Espinoza, without going into details.

"This is the typical link of corruption that has manifested itself in other countries: groups of businessmen or private companies with very strong interests, and wide possibilities of action that approach officials to offer them gifts," he said.

Beyond the fiscal and judicial investigations, President Carlos Alvarado has asked the Legislative Assembly to open an investigative commission into the case.

Thirty suspected of offering the handouts, high-ranking officials of construction firms in Costa Rica were arrested, including H. Solís and MECO, which account for a high percentage of public works projects for accumulated sums amounting to $900 million

Carlos Cerdas, owner of MECO and who was arrested in the operation, was involved in Panama in the Blue Apple case, where in 2017 payments of up to 10% of the value of the works were reported to win contracts.

Among those investigated is an adviser to the president, Camilo Saldarriaga, who resigned on Monday after the scandal. Also Allan Ugalde, the manager of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, in charge of resolving appeals to public tenders.

"Where there is a corrupt person, there is a corruptor," said President Alvarado, condemning the denounced events.