[JURIST] Former Costa Rican president Rafael Calderon [CIDOB profile, in Spanish] was convicted Monday on corruption charges and sentenced to five years in prison. Calderon was unanimously convicted [Inside Costa Rica report] by three judges at the Second Judicial Circuit Courts of Goicochea, who found him guilty of embezzling $520,000 [La Nacion report, in Spanish] during a nine-month period in his 1990 to 1994 term, a crime punishable under article 354 of the Costa Rican Penal Code [text, PDF in Spanish]. Only one person was exonerated in what has been called the Caja-Fischel scandal after the Social Security Fund [official website, in Spanish] from which the money came and the Fischel Corporation [corporate website, in Spanish], the company involved in the kickbacks. Also convicted for embezzlement were three former public officers including former president of the Social Security Fund Eliseo Vargas Garcia and two officers from the Fischel Corporation. Calderon has said that he will appeal his conviction, and maintains that he is innocent, alleging that the funds he received were for consulting services rendered. He had been planning to run for president once again in the February 2010 election, but has now withdrawn. The formal reading of the sentence is scheduled for November 3, and all parties will be able to appeal at that time. Pending any appeals, the order would proceed to the Cassation Court and any jail sentences would then be enforced.
Calderon was accused and arrested [JURIST report] in 2004 along with seven others on charges of embezzling and taking kickbacks that amount to an estimated $8 million from a $32 million Finnish loan for the purchase of medical equipment and $7.5 million from state funds. Calderon is the first Costa Rican president to be tried and convicted for corruption charges, but another former president is currently on trial for similar charges. Miguel Angel Rodriguez [OAS profile] is on trial for receiving kickbacks from purchases made by the Costa Rican national health system. Rodriguez served as president from 1998 to 2002, and pending charges from the current case against him forced him to resign [JURIST report] from his role as Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS).