Phone company seeks compensation for bribe injuries

The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad is seeking compensation from Alcatel for the corruption involved in the awarding of a contract for GSM cell phone service.

The state company said Wednesday that it had filed a case against Alcatel-Lucent in a Florida court. This is the case in which former president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echevarría stands accused of corruption.

A former Alcatel CIT executive got 30 months in prison two years ago for engaging in the elaborate bribery scheme to obtain a mobile telephone contract.

The man admitted making more than $2.5 million in bribe payments to Costa Rican officials, in violation of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He is Christian Sapsizian, 62, who has cooperated with authorities here.

The U.S. courts had jurisdiction because until Nov. 30, 2006, Alcatel was a French telecommunications company whose American depositary receipts were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. According to plea documents, Sapsizian was employed by Alcatel or one of its subsidiaries for more than 20 years and at the time the corrupt payments were made, was the assistant to the vice president of the Latin American region for Alcatel.

Sapsizian admitted that between February 2000 and September 2004, he conspired with Edgar Valverde
Acosta, a Costa Rican citizen who was Alcatel’s senior country officer in Costa Rica, and others to make more than $2.5 million in bribe payments to Costa Rican officials to obtain a telecommunications contract on behalf of Alcatel.

According to information in plea documents, the payments were made to a board director for Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, known as ICE, which was responsible for awarding all telecommunications contracts. The director has been identified in Costa Rica as José Antonio Lobo.
Lobo is testifying for the state in the Rodríguez trial.

Alcatel was awarded a mobile telephone contract by ICE in August 2001 valued at $149 million.

The trial against the former president and others recessed Monday while judges study documents provided by U.S. prosecutors. The trial was in the late stages when prosecutors sought to introduce new evidence. However, the documents have to be translated into Spanish. The tribunal is expected to reconvene Monday.

Alcatel is being sued by the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad said it would not comment on the contents of the documents that were in the hands of the trial court here. They are presumed to summarize the U.S. investigation against Sapsizian, who is known to have identified the highly placed Costa Rican government official who benefited from the bribe scheme.

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