No one goes to jail in the Caja embezzlement decision

The Sala III gave everyone what they wanted Wednesday.

Prosecutors got convictions in the so-called Caja-Fischel case. Former president Rafael Ángel Calderón Founier got his freedom and got to keep his money.

Calderón followers got a potential presidential candidate.

Although Costa Rican penal law provides for prison of up to 12 years for someone who embezzles public money, the Sala III magistrates reduced Calderon’s five-year-prison sentence to three years. That way he became eligible for conditional release.

Other defendants in the case also benefited, too.

Calderón had been convicted of two counts of peculado or embezzlement. But the Sala III found that evidence gathered in Panamá under a mutual assistance treaty was faulty. That was an appeal raised by defense lawyers.

However, the court found that evidence gathered in Miami were done so legally. In both cases, the bulk of the evidence were records of bank accounts and deposits.

The 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 released Wednesday afternoon.

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. Calderon’s wife, Gloria Bejarano Almada, lost an appeal against civil damages but without the full ruling what this means was not clear.

She is a sitting legislative deputy in Partido Unidad Cristiana, which also is Calderon’s party.

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.

Vargas, Sánchez and Bolaños had been barred from public employment under the initial verdict. The magistrates did not overturn this. Sánchez and Bolaños also are former officials of the Caja. However, the court did overturn the same prohibition against Calderón, so he is now eligible to seek public office.

Medical experts at the Caja hospitals said the equipment was not needed or was inappropriate. Some $9 million of the amount was skimmed off, according to the allegations.

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.

Reaction from Costa Ricans was mostly resignation.

An earlier version of this article was published at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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