Calderón declared guilty but will not do time

The Sala III high criminal court upheld, much of the case against former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier and his associates in a decision released Wednesday. But the court downgraded the allegations to one count of simple embezzlement and overturned the penalty of prison.

The court reduced the sentence given Calderón by the trial court from five years to three and awarded him conditional execution of the penalty. In other words, if he is not involved in another criminal case in five years he will not go to prison on the embezzlement charge.

The same decision affected co-defendants Eliseo Vargas García, Juan Carlos Sánchez Arguedas, Gerardo Bolaños Alpízar, Walter Reiche Fischel and Marvin Barrantes Vargas, according to a summary of the decision released after lunchtime.

Defense lawyers presented a number of appeals from the Tribunal Penal de Hacienda Oct. 5, 2009. The appeals that were upheld related to money damages but not to the guilt or innocence of the defendants, according to the summary.
The initial decision also ordered the confiscation to the state of more than $500,000 that Calderón had in Banco de Costa Rica and the money in another account in the United States. Vargas, too, was ordered to surrender money in his accounts. This aspect of the verdict seems to have been overturned.

The Sala III magistrates agreed with defense appeals and threw out evidence based on financial statements from Panamá based on the way the information was collected. But the court accepted similar proofs from Miami, Florida.

Calderón was convicted of accepting a bribe to advance a $39.5 million contract for equipment being supplied by a firm from Finland. Vargas is a former deputy and former head of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, and Reiche Fischel was the head of a local pharmaceutical company that handled the transaction. Reiche Fischel was the principal witness against Calderón and also a defendant.

The magistrates also ordered that a home in the Parque Valle del Sol subdivision in Santa Ana, once occupied by Vargas, be registered in the name of the state.

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