Global News

This article first appeared on BBC News on November 15, 2021.

Costa Rican authorities launched Monday a large operation, with hundreds of agents and dozens of prosecutors, which led to the arrest of the mayor of San José and those of four other municipalities.

The mayors are included in the “diamond operation” for alleged bribes they received to facilitate public works contracts.

Costa Rican construction company MECO is the leading company accused of facilitating the alleged corruption schemes.

“The concentric point of the activity is the company MECO, which is the one that participates in the bids, makes suggestions, and cancels gifts,” Glen Clavo, Costa Rica’s anti-corruption prosecutor, explained at a press conference.

In the mega-operation in which there were 40 simultaneous actions in the country, executed by 600 agents and 32 prosecutors, the authorities arrested Johnny Araya, the mayor of San José, the country’s capital.
Also arrested were mayors Mario Redondo (Cartago), Humberto Soto (Alajuela), Alberto Cole (Osa) and Alfredo Córdoba (San Carlos).

MECO told BBC Mundo that it “does not yet know about the investigation process, ” while Araya’s lawyer also stated that he does not yet know the charges against his client.

Operation Diamond

Walter Espinoza, the director of the Judicial Investigation Organism (OIJ), reported that “operation diamond” began in 2019 in the face of a complaint about bribes to local officials.

The five mayors involved, as well as other officials who were not named, allegedly received payments to “favor” construction company MECO and other suppliers in bids, advanced payment of invoices, or early start of public works.

The officials are accused of receiving “gifts and bribes”, Espinoza explained at the press conference.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Glen Clavo indicated that the public works tenders have to do with road projects.

They call it “operation diamond” because it is a “transparent” and “difficult to alter” investigation, like that precious stone.

“This case involves a severe prior investigation, very well threaded and with absolute planning,” Espinoza said.

MECO told BBC Mundo that it prefers not to offer further comment at this time because it does not know what the accusation is about.

“The company continues to work normally, and will collaborate as necessary with the authorities in this case,” said the firm, which has a presence in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia.

For his part, Alfonso Ruiz, a lawyer for the mayor of San Jose, said he only knew that his client was being detained.

“The prosecutor’s office is waiting to explain the reasons why they are proceeding with the diligence and at this moment I do not have, objectively I tell you, any other information,” Ruiz told the press outside the house of Mayor Johnny Araya.

A mega-operation

From 7 am Monday, local time, some 600 agents and 32 prosecutors were deployed to carry out 40 simultaneous raids in 84 different points of the country.

The operations were spread throughout San José, Cartago, Escazú, Siquirres, Osa, and Alajuela in homes of officials, in the offices of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport of the country, and offices of companies related to construction.

According to the local press, judicial agents arrived at the home of Araya, 64, and entered peacefully to arrest him and carry out the raid.

Araya has been mayor of San José since 1998 (except between 2013 and 2016 when he sought the presidency of Costa Rica).

Prosecutor Glen Calvo said that the raids seek to secure physical and digital information “that will allow us to head towards the study of different tenders of the cantonal road structure, executed by these municipalities, as well as some kind of budgetary and billing information that has been given”.

The “diamond operation” is parallel to the “Cochinilla” case that the authorities disclosed last June and which also revolves around acts of corruption for the bidding of road works.