San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Another Ex-President Implicated Corruption Scandal Broadens

President Abel Pacheco and the LegislativeAssembly this week both requested the resignationof the Secretary General of theOrganization of American States (OAS) – formerCosta Rican President Miguel ÁngelRodríguez – after accusations that he acceptedbribes in connection with a government contractwith a French telecommunications company.A former board member of the Costa RicanElectricity Institute (ICE), José Antonio Lobo, toldthe Prosecutor’s Office on Sept. 30 that Rodríguezhad claimed 60% of a $2.4 million “prize” the Frenchtelecom firm Alcatel was awarding for a contract itreceived in 2001 to supply ICE, the state telecommunicationsmonopoly, with 400,000 cell phone lines.According to Lobo, who has been placed underhouse arrest, Rodríguez said Lobo would receive theother 40%.Prosecutors are investigating Lobo and other formerofficials in connection with a growing ICE corruptionscandal (see separate story).“SIMPLY the idea that a government leader ofCosta Rica, in conformity with these affirmations, couldhave been a beneficiary of such an act, generates profoundconsternation,” Pacheco said to Rodríguez in a letter requesting his resignation, which theCasa Presidencial released Monday. “Youknow that presenting yourself before thebodies that investigate the case is yourindelible judicial responsibility; separatingyourself from your high duty is yourunpostponable moral duty.”Rodríguez, who served as Presidentfrom 1998-2002, admitted Thursday nightto the daily newspaper La Nación that hehad received $140,000 transferred fromLobo, but said it was a “personal loan,”which he used to finance his campaign forsecretary general of the OAS.However, Chief Prosecutor FranciscoDall’Anese told La Nación his office hasevidence that disproves Rodríguez’sexplanation.The OAS secretary general respondedto President Pacheco’s request in a letterthat said, “I am sure you will understandthe essential presumption of innocenceuntil the opposite is demonstrated.”Rodríguez took his new post inWashington D.C. on Sept. 15 (TT, Sept.17).ON Monday, 43 of 47 legislators presentat the Legislative Assembly approveda measure officially requestingRodriguez’s resignation.Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar onTuesday said the Prosecutor’s Office mustestablish official accusations againstRodríguez, and then they would have alegal basis to officially request his returnto Costa Rica. For the time being, however,they cannot present a case before theOAS based on “newspaper clippings,” hesaid.Tovar told the press that the people ofCosta Rica would like to see Rodríguezreturn to the country to offer explanationsfor the accusations.“They want former PresidentRodríguez to present himself before thecourts like any other Costa Rican,” Tovarsaid. “I am sure the formulation of chargeswill come very soon.”In a statement released by the JudicialBranch in response to the announcementsat Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, ProsecutorDall’Anese said, “The Prosecutor’s Officewill continue analyzing this matter. It hasyet to make a decision. The EconomicCrimes Prosecutor is analyzing the declarationsMr. Rodríguez gave yesterday.”NUMEROUS Latin American leaders,including Mexico’s Foreign MinisterLuis Ernesto Derbez and HonduranPresident Ricardo Maduro, haveannounced their support for Pacheco’sdemand that Rodríguez offer immediateexplanations.“If they confirm the accusations, heshould resign,” Derbez told AgenceFrance Press (AFP) wire service.U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powelltold the press the United States is followingthe case “with interest.”In his letter, Rodríguez, who was electedPresident on the platform of the SocialChristian Unity Party (PUSC) – the sameparty as President Pacheco – said he wouldreturn to Costa Rica to face justice, but hedid not specify when that would be.The revelation of Rodríguez’s allegedinvolvement, two weeks after he assumedthe office of secretary general of the 34-member OAS, came just days after LaNación reported a corruption scandal inICE, now under government investigation(see separate story).THOSE reports follow on the heels ofnewspaper reports linking formerPresident Rafael Ángel Calderón, also ofthe Unity Party, to alleged payments –made after his term as President – in thescandal sweeping the Social SecuritySystem (Caja), which oversees thenation’s public health-care system (seeseparate story).Some analysts called the Caja scandalthe worst in decades, while others now saythe alleged payoffs to Rodríguez are muchmore devastating to Costa Rica’s internationalimage.Mario Carazo, vice-president of thelocal chapter of TransparencyInternational, which produces a widelyrespected annual Corruption PerceptionIndex, said the involvement of high-echelongovernment officials in such a scandalwould likely have an extremely destructiveeffect on Costa Rica’s internationalreputation.Carazo compared the alleged payoffsto “mafia” activity, saying such corruptionis the result of a “ring of organized crime.”“To have two former Presidents…atleast identified within that ring, is in itselfshattering,” Carazo, himself a former legislativedeputy of the Unity Party, told TheTico Times.COSTA Rica’s rating has been steadilydeclining on the organization’s corruptionindex, according to reports on theorganization’s Web site Costa Rica has slid from an internationalranking of 22 in 1997, when thecountry scored 6.45 points on a scale of 1-10, to a ranking of 50 in 2003, when thecountry scored just 4.3 of 10 points.Carazo said the decline in ranking ispartially due to the fact that more countrieshave been added to the index, but also hasto do with a lack of government transparencyand the country’s delay in passingthe Law Against Illicit Enrichment andCorruption, which the LegislativeAssembly had reviewed since August1999.He said Costa Rica has distinguisheditself as “a Latin American country that isabove all other Latin American countriesexcept Chile and Uruguay,” and that sucha reputation may have been destroyed bythe scandals.PRESIDENT Pacheco this weeksigned the anti-corruption law Carazomentioned. The assembly approved thelaw last month (TT, Sept. 24).Pacheco, who in the past has said hewould “cut off the hands” of corrupt officials,said a strong response to the currentcorruption crisis is the only way torestore Costa Rica’s international image,which he now concedes has been taintedby scandal.He said he is embarrassed about theallegations against Rodríguez.“The indignation is profound,”Pacheco said. “Here, we have been victimsof a barbarous crash in our democracy.”“I campaigned for him to thePresidents of the Americas, and now I look ridiculous,” Pacheco said.President Pacheco himself is underscrutiny for allegedly having receivedquestionable campaign contributions fromforeign companies, including the recentlyreported $100,000 deposited into theaccount of Second Vice-President LuisFishman by the French company Alcatel(TT, Oct. 1).This week, Pacheco made a call to theprivate business sector, saying that governmentcorruption is not possible withoutprivate backing.“There isn’t a corrupt person in publicservice without a corruptor from the privatesector,” Pacheco said during hisSunday radio announcement.ACCORDING to Lynda Solar, generalmanager of the Costa Rican-AmericanChamber of Commerce (AmCham),bribery in Costa Rica, especially by “manyEuropean companies,” has always been “apart of the landscape.”She said the size of Costa Rica’s publicsector makes corruption more likely.“When you have a public sector thatbig, it is a very fertile ground for corruption,”Solar said. “Many employees whodidn’t obtain jobs in the private sector goto the public sector, and they’re makingvery low salaries.”However, she said it is vital the currentscandals do not paralyze the country, andthat a “witch hunt” for corrupt officialswould likely do more harm than good.Evita Arguedas, president of the CostaRican Chamber of Commerce, said corruptionis a two-way street.“There isn’t a corruptor in the privatesector who can work without someone inthe public sector to receive the money,”Arguedas said in response to Pacheco’scomments.Solar agreed, saying “It takes two totango.”Arguedas said it is important for allemployees to speak out against corruption,and that total transparency is needed tocombat the problem.

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