Costa Rica mortgage bank chief ousted after thousand-dollar feast

January 30, 2009

The government forced Ennio Rodríguez to step down Thursday from his post as director of the state National Housing Mortgage Bank (BANHVI) after learning Rodríguez used bank funds to pay for a ¢660,000 ($1,140) lunch.

The whopping bill was paid Nov. 11 at an exclusive western San José restaurant during a “work meeting” of 12 people, Rodríguez told reporters.

However, Rodríguez had told the bank the meeting consisted of only six people.

Housing Minister Clara Zomer confirmed her attendance, adding before the Legislative Assembly that none of the invitees took part in “the decision to choose the place in which the meeting would be carried out and, much less, how (the food) would be paid for.”

Rodríguez, in his defense, told local radio station Monumental it wasn´t merely one lunch, but a “work session; a whole afternoon” that required “several meals.”

Rodríguez said he decided to cover the expense personally, “that way it won´t cost the institution one cinco (a five colones coin).”

Opposition lawmaker Carlos Gutiérrez, of the Libertarian Movement, took the opportunity to take a jab. “It´s worse when you think of the families that are hungry and in need of a decent roof,” Gutiérrez said, alluding to BANHVI´s task of helping finance housing for the country´s poorest people.

In a separate interview on Monumental, Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias said “it seems bad to me,” adding that the government has tried to rein in such expenses.

“If there´s a way for the government to reduce its expenditures, we´ll do it,” Arias said.

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