Chief Prosecutor Puts In Re-election Bid

November 2, 2007

He may have thrown the book at two of the three ex-Presidents he was investigating in alleged corruption scandals, but Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet.

Dall’Anese, 47, put in his bid for re-election this week, saying he has unfinished business to settle, namely the ongoing investigation of three ex-Presidents and fending off the organized crime invading Costa Rica.

“I don’t believe Costa Ricans should be living in a culture of fear,” he said in a press conference Monday.

Dall’Anese’s four-year term expires Nov. 30, and so far he is the only candidate for Chief Prosecutor. The election will most likely be held next week during the meeting of the 22 justices of the Supreme Court. A majority of magistrates, 12, must vote for Dall’Anese in order for him to be re-elected.

His re-election bid was already backed this week by the Chief Prosecutor’s Council.

For the bearded Chief Prosecutor whose career kicked off in 2004 with the explosion of corruption scandals involving three ex-Presidents, two out of three isn’t bad. Though prosecutors have requested that a corruption probe against José María Figueres (1994-1998) for his alleged involvement in a telecom contract scandal be put to rest, charges have been filed against former President Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998- 2002) for his alleged involvement in the same scandal, and Rafael Angel Calderón Jr. (1990-1994) will go to trial for a medical equipment purchase scandal.

But the former justice with a University of Costa Rica law degree said. “You can’t evaluate a term based on two cases.”

Indeed, Dall’Anese claims that state prosecutors working under him have processed more than 550,000 complaints during his nearly four years in office, in turn saturating the courts with trials. Once a formal complaint is filed in a criminal case, it is the job of the Chief Prosecutor’s and Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) investigators to put together enough evidence for a case to be taken to trial.

Dall’Anese claims that his top priority has been to fight organized crime. Drug trafficking prosecutions have made history in his term on the heels of drug seizures nearing 70 tons, but organized crime has threatened security on many levels. The Chief Prosecutor has overseen the pursuit of a number of high-profile organized crime cases from Chinese smuggling rings to Colombian and Mexican cartels operating here (TT, June 15).

Dall’Anese has been trying to muster up support that would give investigators more leeway in organized crime probes, though the reform has been sitting in the executive branch’s lap for some time now (TT, Oct. 25). If he’s re-elected, not only does he want to see that reform through, but he also wants to create a Special Prosecutor’s Office dedicated solely to investigating organized crime, following the lead of other countries like Italy.

In his four years, Dall’Anese has weathered a media flurry that seemed to come as a backlash to his media friendly approach. He lost a case to ex-President Rodríguez because he and the former Public Security Minister gave the press too much access to cover the ex-President’s arrest at the airport (TT, Dec. 22, 2006) and he had to repeatedly deny that he had political aspirations.

Some of his security guards said he drank heavily and stayed out late with the ladies, and there were suggestions that he had a romantic relationship with a defendant and ex-prosecutor in a high-profile murder case, in which prosecutors did end up getting a conviction (TT, Sept. 28).

Perhaps some of the biggest cases during his term didn’t reach the desired conclusions.

The case of murdered business journalist Ivannia Mora resulted in impunity (TT, Nov. 24, 2006), though it is still in appeals. Also the six-year-old case of murdered Colombian-born Costa Rican radio journalist Parmenio Medina has yet to reach a verdict and has cost the state $1 million in salaries, the daily La Nación reported.

In addition, it appears prosecutors didn’t find enough evidence to merit a case against Figueres. Dall’Anese said prosecutors called in two suspects and interviewed others involved in the French telecom payoff scandal in Miami and in France, but to no avail.

“We did all the investigating possible,” he said. “We didn’t obtain the information.”

Since 2004, state prosecutors have been investigating Figueres for accepting $900,000 from the French telecom giant Alcatel, which was awarded a $149 million contract to operate cell phone lines here.

Figueres has said the money was in payment for his consulting services.

Dall’Anese added, though, that the case is by no means closed and that a judge must still decide if there’s enough evidence to prosecute on corruption charges.

Several big cases were also prosecuted under his watch, including the sentencing of fraudulent financier Osvaldo Villalobos to 18 years in prison, public defendant Luis Fernando Burgos received 35 years for killing his wife, and hospital worker Juan Carlos Ledezma who lit the Calderón Guardia hospital on fire and killed 19 got 50 years.

But in running as an incumbent, Dall’- Anese appeared uninterested Monday in discussing a few big cases.

Instead, he seemed intent on selling himself as a crusader against organized crime.

“We’re being invaded by the Colombian cartels,” he said. “We’ve grown accustomed to the culture of death.”

He made a call for the Legislative Assembly to prioritize reforms to combat organized crime.

“If we decide to, we can beat organized crime and I believe that the political parties of this country work for Costa Rica,” he said.

 

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