San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Chief Prosecutor Speaks Out, Urges Patience

AS journalists swarmed aroundFrancisco Dall’Anese in the lobby of theLegislative Assembly building Feb. 18, anadvisor warned the crowd to keep questionsbrief because “the Chief Prosecutordid not expect to be here for so long.”Indeed, the soft-spoken, bespectacledfigurehead of Costa Rica’s legal battleagainst corruption had just survived nearlytwo hours of grilling by members of theassembly’s Public Expenditures Commission.Legislators used Dall’Anese’s appearanceas an opportunity to question him ona wide range of issues – from potentialways to extradite former President JoséMaría Figueres from Switzerland, to whycases against other public officials aren’tproceeding more quickly, to whether theProsecutor’s Office is leaking informationto the press.Dall’Anese asked commission membersfor patience and said the legal processcannot be hurried.“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” hesaid. “In all the cases, there has been agreat deal of caution… We can’t proceedout of impulse.”THE reason for Dall’Anese’s assemblyvisit was to discuss commission members’request that the Judicial Branch considerextraditing ex-President Figueres(1994-1998) on charges of disobedience ofpublic authority.Dall’Anese advised legislators againstthis course of action, saying it could ultimatelyimpede the judicial system frombringing more serious charges against theformer head ofstate.FIGUERES,along with fellowex-PresidentsRafael ÁngelCalderón (1990-1994) and MiguelÁngel Rodríguez(1998-2002), is underinvestigation forallegedly acceptingquestionable payments from internationalcompanies with public contracts inCosta Rica. Both Rodríguez and Figueresare accused of accepting funds fromtelecommunications giant Alcatel, whichreceived a multimillion-dollar contracthere during Rodríguez’s presidential term.Calderón and Rodríguez are both inpreventive detention in individual cells inthe penitentiary La Reforma, northwest ofSan José.Figueres, who has admitted accepting$906,000 from Alcatel, maintains the paymentsare legitimate because they weremade in return for consulting services heprovided to the company.THE Public Expenditures Commissionhas requested on four occasions sinceNovember 2004 that Figueres return fromSwitzerland, where he currently resides, toexplain the payments.When he once again failed to appearearlier this month, commission membersdenounced him before the Prosecutor’sOffice, asking prosecutors to considerwhether a judge could open a case againstFigueres based on his disobedience (TT,Feb. 11).At his recent appearance, Dall’Anesetold commission members that while such acharge could be successful in bringing theex-President home temporarily, Figueres,even if convicted of disobedience of publicauthority, would probably receive a fineequal to a month’s salary or less. Such anaction could also make it harder to bringFigueres home on other charges later on,should the investigation into his paymentstake such a turn, Dall’Anese added.COMMITTEE members reacted tothis advice with thinly veiled frustration.“How can we get this political rebel(Figueres) to give us information thatcould be useful?” Citizen Action Party(PAC) legislator Rodrigo Carazo asked.Ricardo Toledo, of the Social ChristianUnity Party (PUSC), echoed Carazo’s tone.“I have complete faith in theProsecutor’s Office,” he said. “But let metell you this, Mr. Chief Prosecutor. Thepolitical judgment has been made. (Only)the judicial judgment remains.”PUSC legislator Mario Redondo waseven more direct, criticizing the pace ofthe Prosecutor’s Office investigations.“There is a clamoring in Costa Ricathat Figueres’ case not go unpunished,”Redondo said. “My petition is that morebe done, much more, than what (prosecutors)are doing right now.”DALL’ANESE responded, “Justiceisn’t a matter of the majority. We can’t putsomeone in jail to satisfy the observer.”He also defended his prosecutors’ workethic. The Economic Crimes Division is“full of young people very committed totheir country,” he said. “They workSundays… they have had to take (business)trips with money out of their own pockets.”He again emphasized the need forincreased resources and personnel for theoverworked office, as he has during previousvisits to the assembly (TT, Oct. 22,2004).Redondo pressed the point, askingwhy, failing Judicial Branch willingness torequest an international capture order,Dall’Anese would not call Figueres to testifyas a “suspicious witness,” as has beendone in other cases.Dall’Anese dismissed the idea.“Yes, that doesn’t require an extradition,but he wouldn’t be obliged to come,either,” he said, adding the InternationalPolice (Interpol) would not be able toinvolve themselves in such a request.TALK then turned to the alleged leakageof information from judicial sources tothe press – something ex-PresidentRodríguez has complained about in lettersto the Costa Rican Lawyers’ Associationand the Supreme Court.“Do you think there are functionariesdirectly linked to the media, passing theminformation in exchange for something?”Toledo asked.Dall’Anese responded that while there isno doubt information is being leaked, “whatwe can’t verify is who (is responsible)”within the justice system, or whether theguilty party is being paid for the service.He added that the information leaks tothe press have caused serious problems forprosecutors in the case of Rodríguez andothers, since “we have to run” to ensurevaluable leads are not lost or tampered with.He also said he is even more worried byapparent leaks of information to suspects.“The issue of the press can be dangerous,but the real problem is when we beginto see that information is getting to thecriminals,” he said.“We’ll see how we might solve theproblem,” he said. While the SupremeCourt will investigate the problem of informationleaks, Dall’Anese warned “this is aculture of many years. It’s nothing new.”THE Supreme Court commission isone of two that resulted from months ofcomplaints by Rodríguez about his treatmentfollowing his arrest in October 2004.Rodríguez returned to Costa Rica fromthe United States on Oct. 15 after steppingdown as Secretary General of the Organizationof American States (OAS) to deal withthe corruption allegations against him.Rodríguez was handcuffed as he stepped offthe plane, placed in house arrest, and then, inNovember, transferred to La Reforma.One of the two commissions theSupreme Court has established will examinewhether Rodríguez’s arrest was executed incompliance with the law. The other commission,on which Dall’Anese will serve, willexamine how the Judicial Branch disseminatesinformation.

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