In what has become an all too common occurrence in the Costa Rican political landscape, a scandal arose last week regarding an order to suspend the investigation of a potentially illegal use of funds by former Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, brother of former President Oscar Arias (2006-2010).
The details of the now nationally publicized investigation spread last week when the daily newspaper La Nación revealed that two hours after the president’s brother received a subpoena to appear in court on Oct. 8, Chief Public Prosecutor Lilliam Gómez cancelled the hearing.
Rodrigo Arias was scheduled to appear in the prosecutor’s office to answer questions about his management of $2 million in funds donated to the Costa Rican government by the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE). The Comptroller General’s Office said they were not consulted on the use of those funds. On Oct. 5, four public prosecutors, including Gómez, determined that Rodrigo Arias should be investigated for suspicion of illegal management of public funds.
When Rodrigo Arias received the subpoena on Oct. 8, La Nación reported that he phoned Security Minister José María Tijerino and asked for him to inquire about the case. The phone call is under scrutiny, because it would appear that Rodrigo Arias might have asked Tijerino to contact incoming Chief Public Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría, who previously served as vice minister of security. Tijerino told La Nación that he received a call from Arias, but didn’t call Chavarría.
Tijerino instead called public prosecutor Emilia Navas, an acquaintance, to ask about the details of the investigation. Navas confirmed the conversation, but said the two only spoke about case details.
Rodrigo Arias also denied in a statement to La Nación that he made a phone call to Tijerino on Oct. 8. In a press conference days later, he said he did make the call, but on Oct. 9, after the investigation had already been suspended.
“I have the phone record right here from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute,” Arias said as he waved a copy of his phone records before reporters. “The call that I made to Mr. Tijerino was at 9:26 in the morning on Saturday, Oct. 9.”
Arias’ lawyer, Francisco Castillo, confirmed that he met with Chavarría to express his point of view on the investigation.
On Oct. 8, Gómez wrote an e-mail titled “Investigation of Rodrigo Arias” and sent it to Navas and two other public prosecutors that worked on the investigation. Gómez wrote the following:
“Good afternoon Emilia [Navas], this afternoon I met with Jorge Chavarría, who will assume the position of chief public prosecutor on Oct. 16, and informed him about the case.
“He requested to halt the investigation so that he can first examine all of the details of the case,” she wrote.
Gómez has admitted that it was Chavarría that requested the suspension of the investigation of Arias, though she defended his decision to do so.
“Jorge Chavarría didn’t give me an order nor would I have accepted an order from him,” Gómez told La Nación. “He gave me his opinion, and said ‘Look, I would like to know the case first,’ because he is the one that will be moving forward with the issue. There weren’t any irregular proceedings.”
Chavarría has since stated that he only intended “to study the case” because he knew little about it. He said that when he met with Castillo about the case “he had already made the decision” to suspend the investigation.
Last week, 22 Supreme Court judges voted to investigate Chavarría’s conduct in the investigation. On Tuesday, a La Nación editorial called for Chavarría’s resignation.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers attempted this week to reopen the investigation of Arias and the matter. But lawmakers from the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) have so far blocked a full congressional investigation.
“Our promise is to the people and institutions of Costa Rica,” said Danilo Cubero, leader of the Libertarian Movement. “Nobody is above the rule of the law, and should be accountable for their actions.”
On Tuesday Arias wrote a letter to Viviana Martín, head of the PLN’s legislative bloc, stating his willingness to be questioned by lawmakers.
“With conviction, a peaceful conscience and courage to account for my actions, as I already have with this case and all my actions, I would like to express my total willingness to present myself in front of the legislature,” Arias’ letter said.