Community, Special Stories, Liberia

Businessmen implicated in bribery investigation monopolize contract bids in Liberia

Esta publicación también está disponible en: Español
Translator: Arianna Hernández

The company Gocesa del Molino S.A. monopolized all of the contract bids for public works promoted by the Municipality of Liberia’s Control and Development Unit during the year 2023.

The construction company obtained a total of 11 contracts and only shared one of the tenders in which it participated with another firm. The total amount awarded to Gocesa in 2023 by the Municipality of Liberia exceeds 670 million colones ($1.3 million), according to data from the Public Procurement System (Spanish acronym: SICOP).

In the National Registry, Gocesa del Molino S.A. is registered in the name of Ángel González Cerdas and María del Milagro Cerdas. They are the son and wife of Abel González Carballo, former general manager of Meco, who is now under investigation by judicial authorities in the case known as Diamante (diamond).

On November 28, the Municipality of Liberia published a photo of Mayor Luis Gerardo “Pipo” Castañeda (wearing a hat) with the representative of the company Gocesa, Ángel González (wearing dark glasses) during the official completion of the cement work in Mario Cañas Ruiz park. They are accompanied by the head of the Urban Control and Development department, Renán Zamora (on the far left), and the municipal engineer, Fiorella Armas.

This Diamante case shook the municipal sector due to the scandalous police recordings that showed alleged acts of corruption with public works bidding contests in the municipalities of San José, Cartago and Alajuela.

In February of 2022, the Public Ministry judicially investigated Abel González, who appears in the judicial file as a defendant.

In that judicial investigation, the former manager of Meco assured prosecutor Johanna Rodríguez, from the Probity, Transparency and Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, that he was retired and indicated that “I currently work in my construction company, Gocesa del Molino.”

In the Diamante case, the company Gocesa “appears” mentioned in 2 stages: first in wiretaps between the owners of the company that revealed alleged acts of corruption with municipal officials and then in the investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office reported on February 11, 2022.

In judicial file 20-009616-0042-PE, recordings made by the Judicial Investigation Agency (Spanish acronym: OIJ) are transcribed, detailing telephone conversations between Abel González and his son Ángel, planning alleged cash payments and gifts for mayors and officials of municipalities linked to the Diamante case.

This article is a complement to the investigative report “Businessmen accused in bribery investigation monopolize contract bids in Liberia” to explain the Diamante case.     In the transcripts of…

The wiretaps even detail conversations that father and son would have had about contract bid contests that, according to SICOP records, were later awarded to the company Gocesa del Molino S.A. in the municipal councils in question.

The Voice of Guanacaste began this journalistic investigation based on alerts issued by GuanaData, a computer system built by this media outlet in alliance with the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (CLIP) that applies artificial intelligence to the contract bid contests processed through SICOP and monitors possible irregularities. in public purchases in the municipalities of Guanacaste.

Gocesa carried out works in Mario Cañas Ruiz park for more than 28 million colones (approximately $54,000). The project was completed in November of 2023. Photo: Rubén Román.

In the case of the company Gocesa, the GuanaData system issued alerts due to concentrating atypical contracting processes and timeframes. From there, a team of journalists first began to documentally verify that alert and then investigate the case.

Data reported by the Ministry of Finance’s Public Procurement Observatory records that Gocesa was the company with the highest number of bid processes awarded in the Municipality of Liberia.

Likewise, it details that during the year 2023, the total awards in the Municipality of Liberia were 1.45 billion colones (almost $2.8 million), plus $354,000 USD. Gocesa was awarded contracts totaling 670 million colones (almost $1.3 million).

In other words, Gocesa received approximately 39% of the total amount of contracts for municipal public works, according to the report from the Public Procurement Observatory.


What does the mayor say?

According to the current mayor of Liberia, Luis Gerardo “Pipo” Castañeda, he has not participated in the contracting processes, so he asked to refer inquiries to Juan Pablo Mora, municipal supplier.

“The mayor has nothing to do with the SICOP process. They participate, they bid and whoever wins it, wins it. For the record, SICOP, as I said at the beginning, has not caused any problems like it did with the park. At least Gocesa hasn’t asked for a percentage for their work, I want to clarify, you can investigate. [Gocesa] has participated in all the project contracting processes and has won and that is where you should ask the person in charge of SICOP in the case, lawyer Juan Pablo Mora.”

I don’t have to see anything. I have never gone to ask who won, as if there were council members and other municipal officials here in this council asking who had won such and such contract bid contest,” the mayor said during an interview with The Voice of Guanacaste.

According to Law 7794 of the Municipal Code, the mayor is the general administrator and head of the municipal agencies, he is the highest legal representative and is also in charge of approving all of the expenses of the local government.

This medium tried to obtain the opinion of the person in charge of procurement for the Municipality of Liberia, Juan Pablo Mora, but the official did not answer the questions sent through the official channel of the Municipality of Liberia. The questions were sent on January 12 and were processed by the person in charge of communication, Dayan Canales.

On January 25, the Municipality indicated that the official went on vacation, but that he would respond to the inquiries upon his return on January 29. At publication time, the night of January 29, no information had been received from Mora.

At The Voice of Guanacaste, we also tried to get the opinion of the former general manager of Meco, Abel González, but we didn’t receive a response from him either. We tried to reach him through his lawyer, by email and via WhatsApp, but he didn’t respond through any of these means.

Likewise, Ángel González (son of the former manager of Meco who appears in the public registry as the owner of 50% of the shares of Gocesa del Molino) did not respond to the questions posed by this medium via email and WhatsApp.

A Million Dollar Client

According to the Ministry of Finance’s Public Procurement Observatory, the Municipality of Liberia has awarded Gocesa works for more than 1 billion colones (about $2 million) since 2021.

During 2023 alone, the Municipality of Liberia awarded this company tenders to build parks, recreational areas, bleachers and a bull ring, which totaled more than 670 million colones (almost $1.3 million).

Although the other municipalities of Guanacaste have put similar construction projects up for bid, Gocesa only won the bids in the contests organized by the Municipality of Liberia’s Development and Control Unit.

In Liberia, Gocesa won all of the tenders in which it participated with the exception of one part in the second stage of the construction of a cultural stage in Camilo Reyes Plaza. There, Gocesa shared the contract award. Gocesa obtained the first part for 38 million colones (about $73,000), while part 2, for 32 million colones (about $61,000), was awarded to the company Elightcr.

Gocesa did the construction of the cultural stage in Plaza Camilo Reyes in a tender for 173 million colones ($331,000), officially completed in May of 2023. Photo: Rubén Román.

300 Million Colones in December

SICOP data also specifies that at the end of last year, in just 15 days (between December 8 and 22), the Municipality of Liberia awarded Gocesa four tenders that in total exceed 300 million colones ($575,000).

Public data shows that on December 8, bid awards were finalized for the second part of building a cultural stage in Plaza Camilo Reyes for 38,950,022 colones (about $74,600) as well as the construction of the multipurpose field for Las Bermudas School for an amount of 56,956,296 colones (approximately $109,100).

Later, on December 18, Gocesa was also awarded Stage II of improvements to the Guaria I recreational area for an amount of 46,955,404 colones (about $89,950).

The other tender awarded to this company was the construction of the Municipal Archive Building, for a cost of 189,514,939 colones (around $363,000), according to SICOP. This procedure is the highest awarded to Gocesa and became final on December 22, 2023.

This is where the Municipal Archive building will be built. The work was awarded to the company Gocesa for an amount of 189 million colones (about $362,000). Photo: Rubén Román.