San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Montealegre, 38 Others Accused in Cenis Case

MANAGUA – Opposition political leader and former banker Eduardo Montealegre, a candidate for Mayor of Managua for the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), is one of 39 people accused this week by the state prosecutors’ office for his alleged role in the 2000-2001 banking bailout scandal known as the “Cenis” case.

Montealegre and the other 38 former government officials and bank board members were accused Monday morning by special prosecutor Armando Juárez, who presented charges of crimes against the economy, fraud and trafficking of influences.

Juárez is asking the judge that the accused be placed under house arrest with a travel ban and a series of other provisional embargoes.

Last week, Montealegre had asked Prosecutor General Julio Centeno to remove Juárez from the case due to alleged political and family connections that he thinks prevent the prosecutor from doing his job objectively. Montealegre noted that Juárez is the nephew of infamous Sandinista ideologue and former spy boss Lenín Cerna and was also the defense lawyer for former Central Bank president Francisco Mayorga, who was already found guilty in the banking scandal.

Centeno has not responded to the request.

The Sandinista government has called the Cenis scandal, in which the former government of Arnoldo Alemán issued questionable investment certificates to cover the collapse of four state banks. For months the Sandinistas have been running a continuous smear campaign on television blaming the $600 million scandal on Montealegre and Jaime Chamorro, director of the opposition daily La Prensa, who is one of the 39 accused.

The Cenis certificates were bought by three private banking institutions – Banco de Finazas (BDF), Banco de Producción (Banpro) and Banco Centroamericano (Bancentro) – and then renegotiated at very high interest rates, leading to the accusation that the scandal is akin to insider trading.

Montealegre has insisted upon his innocence, and claims the state’s investigation is part of a political witch hunt by the Sandinistas to eliminate the political competition in the country.

In the race for Managua, Montealegre leads Sandinista candidate Alexis Argüello in recent polls. If found guilty in the Cenis case, Montealegre and the other defendants could face up to 10 years in jail.

Montealegre, however, enjoys legal immunity provided to lawmakers – a condition he says he won’t renounce to face justice.


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