San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ex-President Refuses to Return

EX-PRESIDENT José María Figueres (1994-1998)announced Wednesday he would not return to Costa Ricafrom Switzerland to explain his alleged connection to oneof the corruption scandals under investigation by theProsecutor’s Office.His refusal to appear before the Legislative Assemblyelicited an angry response from assembly members and ascathing letter from President Abel Pacheco asking him –for the second time – to return to Costa Rica.Figueres’ rebuff was the second corruption-relateddevelopment to spark angry denunciations in the assemblythis week. Assembly president Gerardo González, of theSocial Christian Unity Party, was widely denounced forhis reaction to what appears to be an Internet slander ofChief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese, who this weekwas named “Newsmaker of the Year” by both La Naciónand Al Día daily newspapers.DALL’ANESE presides over several ongoing governmentcorruption cases. The most prominent involvealleged payments to officials of the Costa RicanElectricity Institute (ICE) by global telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel, and to officials of the Social Security System (Caja) by companies linked to Costa Ricanfirm Corporación Fischel. Both ParisbasedAlcatel and a Finnish companylinked to Fischel received multi-million-dollarcontracts in Costa Rica.The investigations have resulted inpreventive detention orders for severalpublic officials including former PresidentRafael Ángel Calderón (1990-1994) andformer President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez(1998-2002), who are both being held inLa Reforma penitentiary in Alajuela,northwest of San José.FIGUERES has admitted to receiving$906,000 from Alcatel for “consulting services”he said he provided in 2001. He wasthe head of the World Economic Fund untilhe resigned in October because the Alcatelpayments violate the private, non-profitorganization’s regulations (TT, Oct. 29).After an extensive back-and-forth withlegislators about when he would travel toCosta Rica to explain the payments,Figueres last month promised to return toCosta Rica in early December (TT, Nov.19), but this week he sent a 15-page documentto the assembly instead.In the document, he maintains the paymentsare legitimate and says he never haddirect contact with Alcatel, according to LaNación.In previous weeks, legislators threatenedto involve national and international authoritiesif Figueres did not show up. However,Judicial Branch spokeswoman SandraCastro said Wednesday that Figueres has notbeen named as a suspect nor been ordered totestify before judicial authorities.Dall’Anese told La Nación his office’slack of funding has impeded investigation ofFigueres. He had asked President Pachecofor emergency funds in September, butdelays in the Legislative Assembly, whichmust approve the funds, have made itunlikely any additional staff will be hiredbefore the end of the year (TT, Oct. 22).PACHECO sent a brief, reproachfulletter to Figueres Wednesday afternoon –the second time he has formally requestedFigueres’ return – in which he mentions toFigueres’ father, legendary formerPresident José “Pepe” Figueres (1948-1949, 1953-1958 and 1970-1974), whoseaccomplishments include the abolition ofthe army in 1948, which was commemoratedthis week (see separate article).“If your respect for (Costa Rica’s) peopleand its institutions do not force you toappear, perhaps the example of yourfather’s life will oblige you,” Pacheco’sletter said.THE other corruption-related conflictin the assembly this week resulted fromthe Internet publication of the alleged transcriptof a phone conversation betweenDall’Anese and journalist Pilar Cisneros.The document is labeled “Transcriptionof Cassette No. 14” and contains a dialoguein which “Dalanese” (sic) andCisneros speak casually about testimony inthe cases under investigation.Assembly president González called anemergency meeting about the document onMonday, summoning Judicial Branch actingpresident Alfonso Chávez, Public SecurityMinister Rogelio Ramos and JusticeMinister Patricia Vega, among others, wireservice AFP reported. Other legislators andmembers of the press denounced Gonzálezfor taking the document so seriously.THE Judicial Branch and Cisneros’colleague Ignacio Santos say the allegedtranscript is a hoax.“The conversation never took place,”Judicial Branch spokeswoman Castro toldThe Tico Times. “The transcript is completelyfalsified.”Santos, who co-directs Channel 7 TVNews with Cisneros, who is currently outof the country on vacation, echoedCastro’s response in an editorial segmenton the news program.“The main proof of the conversation’sinexistence is that nobody has presentedthe recording. If it was recorded, where isthe tape?” Santos said.MEANWHILE, Walter Reiche, presidentof Corporación Fischel, joined formerCaja head Eliseo Vargas and ex-PresidentCalderón on the list of high-profile suspectswhose preventive prison orders havebeen reduced in recent weeks.Reiche, released from prison Nov. 26, isaccused of channeling “commissions” froma $39.5 million Caja contract to recipientswho allegedly included Vargas andCalderón. To secure his release, Reiche paid¢200 million ($440,000) in bail.Calderón’s detention order wasreduced from nine to six months in earlyNovember after an appeal by his attorney,and Vargas, who was originally ordered toserve six months’ detention, was releasedthe same week after cooperating withauthorities (TT, Nov. 12).WHEN asked at Tuesday’s Cabinetmeeting what he thought about Vargasreturning to his job at the Ministry ofPublic Health, where he worked followinghis resignation as the Caja chief in April,President Abel Pacheco suggested Vargasshould be allowed to move on.“As a psychiatrist, I have seen howpeople can change their ways,” Pachecosaid. “Also, I am a Christian and believein forgiveness.”(Tico Times reporter María Gabriela Díaz contributed to this report.)

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