Coopera suspects appear at pre-trial hearing; some Coopera members protesting again in Parque Calderon

Jan 30, 2014

Seven of the 10 defendants in the Coopera embezzlement and money laundering case appeared in court on Tuesday for a pre-trial hearing. A judge heard appeals from defense attorneys during the seven-hour session but ordered that the defendants remain in jail.

chl acuayJudge Miguel Arias granted a  provisional dismissal for one of the accused and two other defendants will be brought to court at a later date for an appeal hearing.

Those accused are the Coopera management team, including general manager Rodrigo Aucay, and several coop members. A trial date has not been set.

The prosecution claims that the defendants were involved in a variety of money laundering and embezzlement acitivities that are partly responsible for a $42 millin short-fall in coop funds. Although more than 99% of Coopera members have been reimbursed, the 670 who have not been repaid, including about 110 expats, had deposits amounting to about 70% of all money invested.

If convicted, the defendants face prison terms of eight to 12 years.chl coop

An attorney for some of the uncompensated coop members said last week that he planned to sue the government for lax oversight and says the lack of oversight led to the loses. The agency responsible for monitoring the country’s financial cooperatives, the Superintendency of Popular and Solidarity Economy (SEPS), says that the criminal activity of the arrested managers and members delayed the discovery of financial irregularities. They also say that it was the responsibility of members to monitor the affairs of their coop.

SEPS first discovered the irregularities during audits in March and April of last year and ordered the coop closed in June and the arrests followed.

SEPS is in the process of liquidating Coopera property but, in the first auction, the only bidder was the government itself.

A month ago, SEPS said it planned more payouts in January to unreimbursed members but there has been no further annoucement of when that might happen. The agency said that the sick and the elderly would receive preferencial treatment in future reimbursements.

Some unpaid Coopera members are occupying the glorieta in Parque Calderon to protest government action in the coop’s closure and liquidation. An earlier hunger strike in the park was called off Christmas Eve.

Photo caption: Arrested Coopera General Manager Rodrigo Aucay; Coopera members set up a protest in Parque Calderon; Photo credit: El Tiempo.