In the autumn of 1999 the Swedish telecom giant Ericsson paid 300 000 USD to a bank account in Panama. According to documents and testimonies the bank account was controlled by former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez.
The payment took place while Ericsson was bidding for contracts in Costa Rica.
– They definitely have a problem, said Lawyer Peter Utterstrom, one of Sweden's top corruption experts:
– Because it's hard to explain what could justify the payment other than it would serve to obtain a benefit, and then we all know what it is about,
What is it about then?
– It's about corruption.
Ericsson has done everything in its power to hide their involvement in the transaction. Like most payments in Latin America Ericsson used a dummy corporation, Griffin Development Corporation to conceal their involvement.
Griffin Development Corporation was established by a law firm in Panama in the early 90s and was fitted with a board of nominal directors but was controlled by Ericsson's marketing department, according to sources. The Swedish radio has obtained documents, payments orders, faxes and e-mails proving how Griffin was used to transfer money from Ericsson to many countries in Latin America. In 1999 alone, payments exceeded 60 MUSD. In most cases the final recipient is an anonymous numbered bank-account in a tax haven, but we have also found convicted white collar criminals, and close relatives of people with political power.
In the case of Costa Rica, the Swedish Radio can follow the money from Ericsson, to Griffin, through banks in three countries, (including First Union Bank in New York) to finally end up in an account in Panama that belongs to the company Inversiones Denisse.
According to testimonies in Costa Rica, that company was controlled by the then president Miguel Angel Rodriguez.
– There seems to be many intermediaries. The money wanders and why do you do that? Normally, you pay directly to the final recipient, said lawyer Peter Utterstrom.
The payment to Inversiones Denisse was nearly stopped in the process by the swiss bank were Griffin held an account according to former Ericsson manager, Liss Olof Nenzell who served as a trouble shooter for Ericsson in transaction with many decoy companies.
--They called me and said we've got a number of transactions on Griffin's behalf, they said we do not like these transactions, please check them.
--They asked me because they knew and Ericsson was in control the company, said Liss Olof Nenzell, He claims he forwarded the banks complaints to higher management in Ericsson
In the end Ericsson managed to convince the bank and the money reached its goal in October 1999.
Ericsson is already being investigated for corruption suspicions by the state prosecutor in Greece. (regarding a military Radar system) and by the finance authority SEC in the US. And although the Costa Rican case dates back more than 15 years it may still be of interest to US investigators believe Peter Utterström:
- I suspect it is not too old. This can probably be investigated by the US authorities.
The Swedish Radio talked to several former managers at Ericsson who under the promise of anonymity, confessed to have bribed policy makers in several countries on behalf of Ericsson. Managers describe the bribes as systematic and claim that management was informed. This is confirmed by the former Ericsson manager Liss Olof Nenzell who in the late 90's worked with the confidential payments. And the bribes reached the top political levels he said:
- There were telecom ministers and directors, said mr Nenzell.
– Yes, even at the ministerial level.
What kind of sums are we talking about?
--100:s of millions. In many countries.
Did you think this was normal?
--No, I used the word corruption, and I said, I do not want to be part of it, said Liss Olof Nenzell
In Latin America bribes were used very commonly, according to Nenzell and other sources.
– It happened in many countries
- Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Argentina among others, Nenzell said.
Liss Olof Nenzell claims that Ericsson's management ordered him to destroy all sensitive documents after an investigation by the newspaper Expressen in the autumn 2000. But in fact, he destroyed no documents. He kept them in an hiding place until now.
– There are the names of final recipients, prominent people in a number of countries with which it had agreed to not expose.
A few years ago began Liss Olof Nenzell initiated a secret collaboration with the American Financial authorities SEC. He recently turned over the most sensitive documents to a law firm in the United States to present the material to the US authorities.
– I Think Ericsson should be ashamed of themselves, he said.
Costa Rica's former president Miguel Angel Rodriguez denied through his lawyer that he received any kickbacks or other payments from Ericsson. He says however that Inversiones Denisse, was owned by the company Pieles Costarricenses a company where Rodriguez is one of the shareholders.
Ericsson states that the company has “zero tolerance” against corruption and quote: "refutes generalizations that Ericsson as a company systematically acted in a manner contrary to our own guidelines and principles," end quote