Apparently it’s up to legislator Federico Tinoco to decide whether he goes to trial in the sexual harassment scandal involving a former aide’s allegations against him.
The National Liberation Party (PLN) lawmaker has said he won’t renounce his immunity, which legislators are guaranteed by law, unless a judge demands that he do so for allegations he fired the aide after she refused his advances.
“I suppose that any of you would do the same,” he said in a statement to other legislators, of which The Tico Times obtained a copy.
“Not just any accusation has value. A judge will have to qualify it,” Tinoco’s aide Guillermo Arce told The Tico Times.
In his statement, Tinoco said an investigation by a team the Legislative Assembly put together “confirms his innocence.”
The results of the non-binding investigation, released last Friday, said not enough evidence exists for the assembly to take action against the 57-year-old legislator. The three investigators did, however, encourage Tinoco to renounce his immunity before the courts.
Under Costa Rican law, legislators are granted legal immunity from such accusations, and don’t have to go to court for charges unless they renounce their immunity.
“You can’t get fair treatment if you have to ask a person for their permission to go to trial … the elected are above the law, and victims have no protection,” the former Tinoco aide told The Tico Times this week.
The 38-year-old married mother of four talked to The Tico Times on condition of anonymity, saying the law protects the identity of alleged sexual harassment victims.
She said one good thing came out of the investigation: what she called a “moral sanction” by investigators, who called for Tinoco to renounce his immunity. President Oscar Arias has made the same call for Tinoco to subject himself to a trial like any citizen (TT, Sept. 1).
The investigating panel was made up of retired magistrate Hugo Picado, medical professional Carmen Lidia Guerrero, and businesswoman Maria de los Angeles Alde, three people “who have no idea about sexual harassment law or gender affairs,” the former aide said.
She said her lawyer is looking into the possibility of filing formal charges against Tinoco with the Chief Prosecutor’s Office.
She said she has indirect witnesses and documentation backing up her case. One witness, who was called upon during the panel’s investigation, is another legislator, though she wouldn’t say whom.
Tinoco’s aide Arce highlighted the fact that no formal charges have been presented against the legislator.
“We don’t understand why they haven’t presented anything (to the court). If they’ve got something, present it,” he said.
When The Tico Times approached Tinoco in his office at the Legislative Assembly this week to discuss the allegations, the lawmaker said, “I’ll talk about anything except for that.”He then left, saying he was late for a meeting.
The former aide, who worked for Tinoco for nearly five years, was hired by Liberation legislator Fernando Sánchez soon after Tinoco fired her. The timely rehiring prompted opposition legislators to talk of a possible Liberation party cover-up. The former aide said she didn’t want to comment on any allegations concerning the legislator who now employs her.
She said the case has “completely dominated” her life for the past few months.
“Do you think someone would subject herself to such scrutiny just for pleasure?” she asked The Tico Times. “I have a husband and four children who had to go through this.”
The complaint she filed in the assembly in late August, amid a media frenzy, accuses Tinoco of firing her the Monday after a weekend tour in the Caribbean province of Limón. She alleged she denied his sexual advances during the tour, including a kiss on the mouth as she pleaded for him to stop (TT, Sept. 1). The complaint also alleges Tinoco made comments to her such as “I’ll make you Justice Minister.”
The country had no laws whatsoever defining sexual harassment until 1995. Existing law has been interpreted to not apply to legislators and their aides, because legislators are elected officials, and thus for legal purposes aren’t considered aides’ bosses (TT, Sept. 8).
Members of the legislative Women’s Affairs Commission are drawing up reforms to the country’s sexual harassment law that would establish a labor relationship between aides and legislators, and would take away legislators’ immunity in sexual harassment cases, according to Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) legislator Ana Helena Chacón. She said the proposal could be presented to the commission as soon as today.