San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Former OAS Chief Under House Arrest

CURIOUS citizens and members of the press thisweek swarmed around an apartment complex in VargasAraya, east of San José, where former President MiguelÁngel Rodríguez is serving a six-month house arrest order.Rodríguez was arrested Friday upon his return fromWashington, D.C., where he stepped down as SecretaryGeneral of the Organization of the American States(OAS) amid allegations of corruption during his termhere (1998-2002). He returned to Costa Rica without hiswife Lorena Clare.Rodríguez has been accused of accepting 60% of a$2.4 million “prize” paid by the French telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel for a government contract it receivedto provide 400,000 cell phone lines to the governmenttelecom monopoly in 2001 (TT, Oct. 8).THE Chief Prosecutor’s Office – which had requested a nine-month preventive detentionorder for the former head of state – hasappealed the decision to place Rodríguezin house arrest. Judicial Branch spokeswomanSandra Castro said a ruling on theappeal is not expected until next week, andthat Rodríguez would likely remain in thesame apartment.Throughout the week, area residentspassed by the gated apartment complex tostare, shout insults, and leave notes ofencouragement and flowers for Rodríguez.Some families, who traveled from as faraway as Guanacaste, brought food for him,but the guards would not accept it.Rent at the two-bedroom apartment is$550 a month, an amount being paid byRodríguez’s sister-in-law, Nidia Echandi,Al Día reported.During a two-hour talk with prosecutorsFriday, after being handcuffed at theairport and transported in a paddy wagonthrough angry crowds to the Prosecutor’sOffice in downtown San José (see separatestory), Rodríguez rejected all the accusationsagainst him, according to JudicialBranch press chief Fabián Barrantes.HIS defense attorney, Rafael Gairaud,told the daily La Nación that the informationbeing handled by the Prosecutor’sOffice “is the version of an accused suspectseeking impunity by attributing falseresponsibilities to don Miguel Ángel.”During a meeting with Costa Ricanprosecutors on Sept. 30, José AntonioLobo, a former board member of the CostaRican Electricity Institute (ICE) and a formerminister during the Rodríguez administration,said the ex-President had acceptedpart of the “prize” from the Frenchcompany.Lobo said Rodríguez had promisedhim the remaining 40% of the $2.4 millionpayment, which was deposited into Lobo’swife’s bank account in the Bahamas.On Oct. 8, Lobo voluntarily expandedhis testimony and told prosecutorsthat Rodríguez, at the end of 2002 or thebeginning of 2003, ordered him to givehim “various thousands of dollars” of theAlcatel money.That same day, Rodríguez announcedin a letter in Washington D.C. that hewould resign from his post as SecretaryGeneral of the OAS, effective last Friday –one month after he took office as the firstCentral American to hold the organization’stop post.THE following day, La Nación reportedthat a company controlled byRodríguez allegedly received $100,000from the Spanish company Inabensa,which was awarded a contract to lay subterraneanelectrical cable throughout SanJosé during his administration.Inabensa later issued a statement andtook out a full-page advertisement in LaNación denying the payments. The adrefuted claims it had made payments toany official of ICE or the NationalLight and Power Company (CNFL) andadded that Inabensa won the governmentcontract because of its competitiveprice, not because of commissions.ADDITIONAL allegations have sincesurfaced that Rodríguez accepted paymentsof at least $400,000 from the governmentof Taiwan to fund his politicalcampaign. Taiwan has admitted to makingpayments during Rodríguez’s administration,but claims they were made as developmentaid (see separate story).President Abel Pacheco, from the samepolitical party as Rodríguez, also allegedlyreceived questionable campaign contributionsfrom Taiwanese companies (TT,Sept. 27, 2002). Under Costa Rican law,contributions from foreign companies areprohibited. The allegations led to the creationof a special legislative commissionto investigate campaign financing.The same commission summonedRodríguez for questioning earlier this year,after he was elected OAS SecretaryGeneral by a unanimous vote of the 34members of the hemispheric organizationlast June (TT, June 18).DURING his final days in WashingtonD.C. last week, Rodríguez said he wouldreturn to Costa Rica to offer explanations(TT, Oct. 15).The day he resigned, Chief ProsecutorFrancisco Dall’Anese obtained an internationalcapture order for Rodríguez, sayinghe had “no guarantee he would return toCosta Rica to testify.” The InternationalPolice (Interpol) officially released thecapture order.On Saturday, Rodríguez was transferredto the private hospital ClínicaCatólica, where he received treatmentfor problems related to high blood pressure.He was released later that day andtransferred to the apartment in VargasAraya.Rodríguez has been accused of thecrimes of illicit enrichment, acceptingbribes and aggravated corruption, accordingto the Prosecutor’s Office, but has yetto be officially charged.Prosecutors have said Rodríguez couldface up to ten years in prison if he is foundguilty of the charges.

Comments are closed.