Final verdict expected shortly for ex-president Calderón

As the so-called Caja-Fischel case approaches a final decision, the majority of Costa Ricans appear to believe that the Sala III high criminal court will uphold the lower court convictions.

At least that is the result of an informal opinion poll posted on the Web site of La Nación, the Spanish-language daily. The poll is one of those Internet options that have no statistical validity.

The fact that a major newspaper would publish such an item does show the high anticipation that the public here has for the final decision. Typically in Costa Rican criminal cases, a lower court conviction is without effect until it is ratified by a higher court.

In this case, the list of witnesses is led by Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, the former president. Five Sala III magistrates Monday were studying the appeals that defense lawyers have lodged, so the court is close to a decision.

The lower court verdict was Oct. 5, 2009. Appeals were rapid, but the court magistrate picked to take an initial look at the case quit halfway through the effort. That put the magistrates back to square one.

The trial court sentenced Calderón to five years in prison and gave the same sentence to Eliseo Vargas Garcia, who had served as executive president of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social.
The 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. Calderón said the money came from his legal business.

The three-judge panel rejected appeals from defense lawyers that the information on the bank accounts were obtained incorrectly. That was a key element of the convictions and figured in the appeals.

Most of the allegations against Calderón came from Wálter Reiche Fischel, the former pharmaceutical executive who said he paid Calderón a bribe to advance a $39.5 million contract for equipment being supplied by a firm from Finland. He, too, was convicted, as were several other persons who got lesser terms.

Observers also expected an appeal from Calderon’s legal team against the charge for which he was convicted. The type of bribery allegation appears to be one that can only be committed by a public official.

Calderón, who served from 1990 to 1994, was not a public official in 2002 when the crimes are alleged to have been committed.

Some 54 percent of the La Nación respondents said the sentence would be upheld. Some 29 percent thought the Sala III would reduce the penalties. Just 19 percent thought a new trial would be ordered.

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