San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
National Liberation Party

Ex-President Figueres coming home ‘soon’

After years of self-exile in Europe, former Costa Rican President José María Figueres (1994-1998) said he wants to return to his homeland.

For more than an hour, Figueres explained to Channel 7 Telenoticias’ Ignacio Santos during an interview Tuesday night the reasons he left Costa Rica seven years ago, amid allegations of corruption.

“I’ll come back to Costa Rica soon,” Figueres said, speaking from his home in Madrid.

Santos began the interview by recalling the events in 2004 that enveloped Figueres, son of Costa Rica’s most beloved president, José “Pepe” Figueres, in scandal. Figueres, the son, received a $900,000 payment from French telecommunications company Alcatel (TT, Oct. 29, 2004).

At the time, Alcatel was involved in concession contract negotiations with the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE). In 2001, the French company won a contract from ICE for $149 million, and a second one in 2002 for $109 million. HF Desarrollos Interdisciplinarios, a company owned by a former presidential consultant to Figueres, Roberto Hidalgo, was instrumental in helping to secure the contracts.

Hidalgo, Figueres and former National Liberation Party General Secretary Carmen Valverde each received $900,000 for their participation in the contract negotiations. However, Figueres was not listed in the contracts, and only declared the payment to the Tax Administration after information about the payments became public.

Lawmakers opened an investigation and called Figueres to testify. But the former president, who was living in Switzerland at the time, refused to return to Costa Rica to speak to lawmakers. Charges were never filed, and Figueres was never officially accused of wrongdoing (TT, Oct. 5, 2007).

“I never returned to Costa Rica because I didn’t want to be enveloped in a maelstrom,” Figueres told Santos. “The legislative commission’s members were already talking about a ‘fugitive Figueres’ or ‘the fleeing president.’ Fleeing from what? I wasn’t going to get involved in that turmoil.”

Figueres said he avoided Costa Rica to protect his reputation, and said he had been “persecuted” by the media.

“I didn’t lift a finger to give Alcatel an advantage in any of those processes. … Time has proved that I did no wrong or the Chief Prosecutor’s Office would have called me a long time ago,” an emotional Figueres said, at times appearing on the verge of tears.

Figueres said he looked forward to returning to his country during the holiday season to enjoy a Costa Rican tamal, a tradition at Christmastime.

He also said he wanted to become active again in the National Liberation Party and help “unify” it.

“I think I’ve reached the maturity to be a unifying factor [in the PLN]. I will return because I think the party has the responsibility to show Costa Rica the right path during very complex and difficult global times,” Figueres said.

Figueres said he did not plan to run for another presidential term, although he said he is “certain” he would do a better job than during his last administration.

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