Friday 31 March 2023

Former Ombudswoman Sentenced To 12 Years In Prison

The former ombudswoman, legislator and deputy minister said she will appeal the sentence, considering it incorrect.

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Former Ombudswoman (Defensora de los Habitantes), Ofelia Taitelbaum, was sentenced to nine years in prison by the Criminal Court of Goicoechea, San Jose, for use of a false document.

The former ombudswoman, legislator and deputy minister said she will appeal the sentence, considering it incorrect. Foto: Alonso Tenorio / La Nacion

In addition, Taitelbaum must comply with precautionary measures during the appeal period of the sentence, where she will not be able to leave the country and will have to sign at court once a month.

The sentence was read this Thursday morning. During trial, the prosecutor’s office was able to establish that of the 39 counts of false document use, 32 were verified with a degree of certainty.

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Taitelbaum was acquitted of two counts of coercion.

For each (proven) offense, the former ombudswoman was sentenced to three years in prison, for a total of 96 years; however, the penalty was reduced to nine, a sentence that requires incarceration.

Taitelbaum, who is currently 70 years old, was denounced in 2014 by María Otárola Soto, a seamstress from San Carlos who could not receive her Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) or Caja benefits because of her reported income.

The Caja had denied Otárola her claim on learning that she appeared on income tax filings with a millionaire income, which in fact was that of Taitelbaum.

The seamstress was not aware of the filings, never had any labor or economic relationship with the accused, or with her companies. Both met when Otárola lived in a Pavas slum and Taitelbaum was Deputy Minister of Housing.

In 2014, when the matter got the attention of the media, Taitelbaum called the seamstress to ask her to publicly deny the news reports and, in return, she would have her Caja insurance processed.

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The call was recorded and provided as valid evidence at trial.

This Thursday, Judge Jorge Tabash described Otárola’s testimony as fundamental to the case and considered the recording of the call provided as legitimate evidence, since it allowed to determine that the accused had knowledge of the facts.

“She (María Otárola) was asked why she made the recording and she spontaneously said that she considered that she was in inequality, at a different (economic) level than the accused. She said who was going to believe her an accusation of this kind (…) and for us this statement is fundamental.

“She never had a labor or economic relationship with the one accused or with her companies,” judge Tabash explained during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Taitelbaum in absolute tranquility

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Following sentencing, Taitelbaum said she is in “absolute tranquility” since it is a “first stage” in the criminal process.

“Since I quit the Defensoría I said it, I am at the order of the courts and the whole world because I am sure that in the end, the road is going to be what it should be,” she said.

Taitelbaum has repeatedly denied the accusations against her, putting the blame on her accounting assistant, Ileana Vargas Jiménez, who was also charged but died before the trial and Don Juan Martínez, her first accountant, who is also deceased.

When asked by the press on the matter, Taitelbaum replied: “At this moment I would not like to refer to any of that, because at this moment there are two people whom I loved very much, who are Don Juan Martínez, my first accountant, and Doña Ileana Vargas, to both my love and my respect, who are in another dimension, and I would like to refrain from any comment about it,” she said.

Taitelbaum’s lawyer, Fabio Oconitrillo, said they  will appeal the sentence in that the “reasons given for this conviction, we obviously do not share them for legal reasons.”

Masha Taitelbaum Yoselewich (better known as Ofelia Taitelbaum), born in San Jose on January 4, 1949, is a Costa Rican businesswoman and politician. She was Defensora de los Habitantes de Costa Rica (Ombudswoman) between 2009 and 2014; Legislator for the PLN party from 2006 to 2010; and Deputy Minister of Housing in the Oscar Arias administration 1986 to 1990.

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