QCOSTARICA – On Monday, the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) moved to the raid, seize and arrest of their investigation into corruption of public works in the country. As is typical in “complex” investigations, the OIJ gives it a name that is related to the process.
In this case, discovering the method used to cover up the theft of public funds to benefit construction companies in the adjudication of road works, the chose “Caso Cochinilla”.
But why? Because they determined that the way of acting of those involved was very similar to a cochinilla (cactylopius coccus), an insect-parasite that adheres to plants or fruits and lives on sap.
In the investigation that was just beginning, the agents determined that corruption was hidden behind mechanisms, the purpose of which was not to reveal harmful actions to the detriment of the State’s finances.
This case, which became public on Monday, refers to the alleged misappropriation of funds (malversación de fondos in Spanish) in the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi) – National Highway Council, a division of the Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes (MOPT) – public works ministry – which generated a deficit of ¢78 billion colones (US$130 million dollars at current exchange rate) between the years 2018, 2019 and the first quarters of 2020.
In total, 30 people were arrested on Monday, including owners and employees of construction companies, as well as current and former employees of Conavi.
Among those apprehended are Carlos Cerdas Araya and Mélida Solís Vargas, of the construction companies MECO and H. Solís, respectively, firms that lead the construction of road works in the country.
The explanation of the name of the case was provided by the OIJ, but without going into details of the merits of the investigation, as it was alleged that “they cannot be exposed in any way due to the sensitivity of the information and privacy of the actions established in article 295 of the Code of Criminal Procedure”.
Naming police investigations is a custom that the Judicial Police has had for years. In recent weeks, names such as the Pancho Villa Case or the Darwin Case have emerged to designate an investigation into a group, allegedly dedicated to drug trafficking and money laundering, which had its operations center in the southern part of the country.
Then the name of the Turesky Case came to light, thus calling another investigation related to an opulent drug group, which allegedly shipped drugs in containers to Europe and invested the proceeds in the purchase of goods.
To cite other names, in 2018 an investigation that allowed connecting five people with the homicide and the dismemberment of three men in March 2017 and whose bodies appeared in Zurquí was called the Caso Descuartizados (Dismembered Case).
According to official information, shortly after the investigations began in 2018 for a complaint about alleged corruption in the adjudication of road works, the OIJ agents found similarities between the way in which the investigated acted and an insect-parasite known as cochinilla, which in Costa Rica attacks coffee plants, citrus fruits, and ornamental plants.
The OIJ, when explaining the reason for the name, reported: “The name of the case was a purely police matter, based on the characteristics of the investigation that was being carried out and that was highly consistent with the negative effects of the cochinilla plague.
“The comparison is due to the fact that the pest is characterized by low visibility. This serves perfectly for proliferation and its detection becomes really complicated when it is located at the bases of the stems and the back of the leaves, where inspection with the naked eye is not effective.
“To find it, you have to maneuver, digging and turning the leaves, to observe the white spots, but by the time this happens, the plant has already manifested a stagnation in its growth or in the worst case, the leaves and stems begin to look yellowish and its annihilation is quite complex.
“The investigation that concerns us, and that we consider as Business Criminality, is not far from that representation, as this case put us before a panorama where corruption is hidden behind mechanisms that try not to show the harmful actions for the finances of the Condition.
“It is eating away at and damaging the patrimonial interests of the Public Treasury and proliferates with the passage of time, in such a way that it weakened the credibility in the public function and became more a matter of private interest than in the protection of the public interest,” the OIJ explained.
On Monday, the OIJ maneuver of digging and turning over leaves included 57 simultaneous raids in public institutions, among them Conavi, Diseño, Inspección y Consultoría en Carreteras y Obras Civiles (Diccoc), Casa Presidencial, and the General Comptroller’s Office (CGR), and the private companies MECO, H. Solís, Constructora Herrera, and Constructora Montedes.
The proceedings made it possible to seize evidence and arrest those involved.
Of the 30 people arrested, 14 are public servants, 12 are linked to private companies and in the case of four, investigators have not been able to establish their relationship to either the government or the companies or both.
In addition, there are 19 other people that continue to be investigated, who were not apprehended, but who appear as part of the file.