San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Prosecutors Probe Payments to Ex-Presidents

THE Prosecutor’s Office this week saidit is investigating payments made to formerCosta Rican President Jose María Figueresby a French telecommunications firmalready under fire for alleged bribery of publicofficials.Also this week, new allegations surfacedagainst former President Rafael ÁngelCalderón, who is already behind bars, andformer President Miguel Ángel Rodríguezwas transferred from house arrest to jailunder a judge’s orders.All three former Presidents, who servedconsecutive terms in office from 1990-2002,have been linked to corruption scandals.Calderón and Rodríguez both appealedtheir preventive detention orders thisweek. Calderón appeared before the courtyesterday, while Rodríguez presented awrit of habeas corpus Tuesday challenginghis six-month preventive prison order,said his lawyer, Rafael Gairaud.Figueres, who was President betweenCalderón and Rodríguez, resigned from hisseat as executive president of the WorldEconomic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland,Oct. 29 in connection with the paymentsfrom Paris-based Alcatel, which the formerhead of state admitted he received (TT, Oct.29). According to press reports, by notreporting the income to the economicforum, Figueres “violated norms” of the private,non-profit organization.THE three ex-Presidents come from thecountry’s two most powerful political parties,and two – Calderón and Figueres – arethe sons of renowned former Costa RicanPresidents.Figueres (1994-1998) was Presidentwith the National Liberation Party (PLN) –a party founded by his father, Jose “Pepe”Figueres, who served as President threetimes (1948-49, 1953-58, 1970-74) and iscredited with abolishing the country’s armyin 1948.Calderón (1990-1994) is the son of formerPresident Rafael Ángel CalderonGuardia (1940-1944), the man credited withthe institutionalization of many of CostaRica’s social guarantees, including nationalhealth care.Both Calderón and Rodríguez (1998-2002) served in office under the banner ofthe ruling Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC), a party Calderón is often creditedwith founding.CALDERÓN, 55, was jailed Oct. 22after he was accused of mastermindingthe distribution of a $9.2 million “commission”connected to a $39.5 milliongovernment contract with a Finnish medicalsupply company to update thenation’s public hospital equipment.Rodríguez has been accused of accepting60% of a $2.4 million “prize” from theFrench telecommunications firm Alcatel, inconnection with a $149 million governmentcontract the company was awarded in 2001when he was President (TT, Oct. 22).SAN José Judge Ana Gabriela Jara onOct. 29 revoked the six months of housearrest to which Rodríguez had been ordered,and agreed to the Prosecutor’s Office’srequest for six months of preventive detentionin jail instead.Immediately following her ruling,Rodríguez was transported in a police vehiclefrom the apartment in Vargas Araya, eastof San José, where he had been held inhouse arrest, to La Reforma medium-securityprison in Alajuela, where Calderón is alsobeing held.A large crowd gathered around theentrance of the apartment as he left, and severalangry crowd members pounded on thevehicle as it drove away, followed by amedia convoy.PRISON officials transferred Rodríguezfrom the individual cell he was initiallyheld in after prisoners around him shouteddeath threats and insults at the formerhead of state.Rodríguez, 64, reportedly has beendepressed since his imprisonment and hisblood pressure has been high. Rodríguezwas hospitalized for high blood pressure theday after his arrest, which occurred on hisreturn to Costa Rica from Washington D.C.Oct. 15, the day he stepped down asSecretary General of the Organization ofAmerican States (OAS) in connection withthe corruption allegations.Rodríguez was visited in jail by his sisterBlanca Rodríguez and his niece MaríaTruque, but Rodríguez’s wife Lorena Clareremains in the United States, the daily LaNación reported.Like Calderón, Rodríguez will be permittedto have a small television and a radioin his cell.PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco, who thisweek traveled to Brazil for the Rio GroupSummit, did not say much aboutRodríguez’s transfer to La Reforma.“Once again, I should say that what thejudges say is respected by this servant. Ibelieve in the separation of powers andrespect the decisions of other powers,”Pacheco told the daily La Nación, just afterRodríguez was taken to jail.Pacheco, who had said he felt“betrayed and tricked” by Rodríguez afterallegations against him first surfaced, alsosaid he would apologize before heads ofstate from throughout the hemisphere forhaving supported Rodríguez as a candidatefor Secretary General of the OAS, apost Rodríguez held for just one monthbefore he resigned.President Rodríguez has been accusedof illicit enrichment and aggravated corruption,and Calderón accused of illicit enrichment,aggravated corruption and conspiracyCALDERÓN this week was alsolinked to a $9.4 million credit from a statebank to construct the Miami Crowne PlazaHotel in Florida – a financially shaky operationof which Calderón owns 4.2%,according to the daily La Nación.Thelmo Vargas, former vice-presidentof the state-run Banco Internacionalde Costa Rica (BICSA), told the pressMonday he approved the credit inNovember 2000.Thus far, the hotel has accrued net lossesof $5.6 million, which has led BICSA toterm the loan in risk category “C,” meaningsome 20% of the loan is “unrecoverable.”Santiago Morera, the bank’s sub-directorin Miami, said that BICSA normallydoesn’t fund such projects, but the hotel“looked like good business.”AND while Figueres, 49, has yet to beaccused of a crime, calls have emerged askinghim to explain his involvement in theAlcatel scandal.Legislators from several political parties,including the Liberation Party, arecalling for Figueres’ return to Costa Rica,and have asked him to appear before theLegislative Assembly’s Commission onPublic Expenditures by Dec. 9.On Wednesday, the former Presidentoffered to testify via videoconference,but legislators yesterday rejected hisproposal.The Prosecutor’s Office had initiallysaid it would “analyze” news reports thatFigueres received more than $900,000(¢405 million) in consulting fees fromAlcatel. Figueres has admitted to receivingthe payments but claims they were madelegitimately, and accused the Costa Ricanpress of “bad faith” for painting them ascontroversial (TT, Oct. 29)Prosecutors announced Tuesday theyhave initiated a “review of banking transactions”connected to the payments, but clarifiedthey are not formally investigatingFigueres.MEANWHILE, Figueres’ mother,former legislator and First Lady KarenOlsen, left Costa Rica for Miami,Florida, on Sunday, the daily Al Díareported. It was unclear why Olsen, whodefended her son after reports of the payments,left the country.

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