San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rodrigo Arias testifies before Congress

Former Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias appeared Wednesday before Congress and denied any attempt to influence the chief public prosecutor to stop an ongoing investigation into possible mismanagement of public funds.

Arias admitted to calling former Public Security Minister José María Tijerino to ask him for guidance as soon as he received a subpoena from judicial authorities.

“I called Tijerino for assistance, for guidance, for him to find out what’s going on,” Arias said. “I believe I haven’t done anything wrong.”

The investigation was prompted by a February report by the daily La Nación. The paper questioned if Arias asked Tijerino to call Chief Public Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría in order to influence the investigation (TT, Feb. 4).

Arias insisted that his call to Tijerino occurred the day after the investigation was stopped. Arias turned over a copy of call records from his 16 cellphones to the legislative panel.

During the hearing, Assembly President Juan Carlos Mendoza, of the Citizen Action Party, engaged in a strong exchange with Arias after requesting “yes” or “no” answers to his questions. Arias declined to do so and instead elaborated his answers.

“If you want to disrespect me, that’s fine. But please respect my authority. Please answer the question with a single yes or no, since time is limited,” Mendoza said.

“You understand what I want to say,” Arias replied.

When the exchange was over, Danilo Cubero, of the Libertarian Movement Party, questioned Arias’ decision to call a government minister to find out about a case, instead of following the procedures every citizen would have to follow in the same situation.

“It was a Saturday morning. If it was Monday I would have talked to my lawyer,” Arias explained. “When someone tells me I am under investigation for illicit enrichment, it bothers me, it makes me feel anxious. I didn’t want to wait to find out.”

Arias’ brother, former President Oscar Arias, will also be subpoenaed in coming next weeks, as part of the same investigation, which seeks to clarify how the Presidency Ministry spent a $2 million donation from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.

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