Monday 18 October 2021

Bribed with cars, sexual favors and money in exchange for road works contracts

"Caso Cochinilla". For nine months the OIJ intervened calls between suspects and construction companies to collect evidence

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QCOSTARICA – The OIJ uncovered a big pothole on Monday when it was announced that public officials had allied with construction companies that, apparently, gave them money, cars, land, and even sexual favors so that they would give them road works contracts.

For the moment no road works have been paralyzed by judicial action.

The Organismo de Investgicación Judicial (OIJ), in an operation with the codename “Cochineal” carried out 57 simultaneous raids on the Conavi, Casa Presidencial, MOPT, and two construction companies, the most influential in the country, Meco, H. Solís, among others, on suspicion of corruption and bribery in the public function. More than 700 OIJ agents, expert auditors and IT staff participated in the investigation.

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Telephone interventions (wiretapping) by OIJ agents for nine months led them to uncover the network of corruption that led to the arrested of 29 people on Monday.

“We have people who took advantage of their (public) position to obtain bribes from private companies and favor the costs of the amounts of public works and in the case of private companies favor their commercial situation,” said the director of the OIJ, Wálter Espinoza.

The head of the OIJ assured that this is one of the most important operations and that they have been investigating since 2019 when they received several complaints that spoke directly of public corruption in the field of conservation and maintenance of the road network and that supposedly gave an advantage to several companies that had a monopoly on tenders and received irregular profits.

“At least 35 criminal events are being investigated,” the police chief said.

Espinoza assured that at least ¢78 billion colones have been embezzled. Presumably, the officials helped the companies so that the monies of some items or projects were transferred to them, which allowed them to inject resources, but they affected the projects for which those monies were destined.

As it is a case of organized crime, judicial authorities requested that bank secrecy be lifted.

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“Where there is a corrupt person there is also a corrupter, they must be punished,” said President Carlos Alvarado, who expressed his indignation at the level of corruption in public works.

Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado took to national television Monday night to express his indignaition on the corruption in public works

“As a government, we are not going to stop our efforts to have quality infrastructure and, at the same time, fight corruption at all levels, be they bribes given by companies, drug trafficking or other demonstrations,” said Alvarado.

Among the persons being investigated is Camilo Saldarriaga, President Alvarado’s advisor and confidant, who resigned his post Monday afternoon, and whose resignation was immediately accepted by President Alvarado.

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His decision was made known in a statement in which he says that his conscience is “completely clear and that he has not committed any crime.”

The raid on Casa Presidencial concentrated on Saldarriaga’s office.

Conavi managers are on the list of detainees. At least four managers and directors of the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi) are on the list of detainees, for apparent acts of corruption related to public works.

They are joined by another five officials from the financial and budget execution departments, two engineers and a former manager of the Conavi. They are Carmen Madrigal Rímola, manager of Institutional Supply; José Rojas Monge, financial director; Edgar May Cantillano, manager of Conservation of Roads and Bridges; and Sergio Lobo Bejarano, head of the Council’s Treasury.

For his part, and without knowing in depth the cases that gave rise to the legal actions carried out on Monday in relation to possible irregularities in road projects, the Minister of Public Works and Transportation, Rodolfo Méndez Mata, was blunt.

The current Minister of Public Works (MOPT) Rodolfo Mendez Mata

“Those who have acted maliciously must bear the full weight of the law, whoever it is,” said Méndez Mata in a press release Monday afternoon.

Méndez said he repudiated the conduct of officials who have “betrayed the trust placed in them.”

In a typical reaction, legislators, from various fractions, called for an explanation from President Carlos Alvarado on the alleged acts of corruption.

This is how the legislators reacted after the judicial authorities carried out 57 raids on Monday for the apparent payment of bribes to Conavi and MOPT officials, by construction companies, in exchange for being granted advantages such as irregular payments by others.

“In cases of this type, we must have zero tolerance. It is the credibility of the institutions that is at stake, at a time when absolute transparency is required in the management of institutions,” the head of the PLN party, María José Corrales pointed out.

For the moment no road works have been paralyzed by judicial action.

The names of the detained on Monday

Public officials:

  • Mario Quesada Aguirre: Vice President of the Administrative Court of Transport
  • Carlos Solís Murillo: Former financial manager of Conavi
  • Carmen Madrigal Rímola: Director of Institutional Supply of Conavi
  • Hugo Zúñiga Fallas: From the Management of Conservation of Roads and Bridges of Conavi
  • Elsie Carmona Rivas: Conavi employee
  • Harold Mora Obando: Works in the Directorate of Costs of Roads and Bridges of Conavi
  • Laura Chaves Mora: From the Binational Bridge Executing Unit in Sixaola del Conavi
  • Edgar May Cantillano: Project Engineer at Conavi
  • Marcela Monge Hernández: Acquisition and Finance Manager of Conavi
  • Mauricio Ortiz Vega: Budget Execution of Conavi
  • José Rojas Monge: Financial Director Conavi
  • Abraham Sánchez Castro: Conavi Engineer
  • Sergio Lobo Bejarano: Head of Treasury of Conavi
  • Eliécer Rivera Campos: Conavi Budget Execution

Businessmen:

  • Carlos Cerdas Araya: President of Constructora MECO
  • Abel González Carballo: General Manager of MECO
  • Alejandro Bolaños Salazar: Legal representative of MECO
  • Tobías Arce Alpízar: Works for MECO
  • Alejandra Bonilla Guillén: MECO worker
  • Mélida Solís Vargas: Owner H. Solís
  • Juan Carlos Abarca Quesada: Works at H. Solís
  • Alister Cervantes Morales: Manager of the firm Design, Inspection and Consulting in Roads and Civil Works (Diccoc)
  • Edwin Castro Rodríguez: President of the company of Constructora Montedes
  • William Herrera Chacón: General Manager of Constructora Herrera

Detained people not known where they work:

  • Saúl Zamora Zamora
  • Luis Ureña Villalobos
  • Quesada Pérez
  • Rodríguez Araya

People investigated, but not detained

  • Mario Rodríguez Vargas: Interim Executive Director of Conavi
  • Gabriela Trejos Amador: Legal Affairs Manager of Conavi
  • Johnny Barth Ramírez: Conavi’s Highways and Bridges Contracting Manager
  • Ana Ruth Alfaro Padilla: From the Conavi Bridge Conservation Management
  • Edgar Meléndez Cerda: Manager a. i. Conservation of Roads and Bridges of Conavi
  • Allan Ugalde Rojas: Manager of the Administrative Contracting Division of the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic
  • Juan Camilo Saldarriaga Jiménez: Advisor to President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, resigned this Monday
  • Roberto Acosta Mora: Husband of Mélida Solís
  • Keylor Godínez Abarca: Project Manager H. Solís
  • Sonia Solís Vargas: Sister of Mélida Solís and secretary of the Also Frutales society
  • Alejandro Acosta Mora: Brother-in-law of Mélida Solís and husband of Sonia Solís
  • Max Sittenfeld Apple: MECO Engineer
  • Luis Fernando Gutiérrez Vargas: Manager of the Asphalt Unit at Constructora MECO
  • Priscilla Naranjo Vargas: Position unknown
  • Alex Arce Barrantes: Position unknown
  • Randall Zamora Zúñiga: Position unknown
  • Rafael Araya Mena: Position unknown
  • Cristian Fallas Hernández: Position unknown
  • Luis Mata Madrigal: Position unknown

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