A San José criminal court judge sentenced former Costa Rican President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, 71, on Wednesday to a five-year prison term for "instigating corruption" in a telecommunications deal involving the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and French company Alcatel, now Alcatel-Lucent. (Watch a video of Rodríguez's arrest here)
The former president, who also briefly served as secretary general of the Organization of American States, was found not guilty of a separate charge of illegal enrichment. Defense lawyers will likely appeal the ruling, which was handed down at 3:20 p.m.
Eight other co-defendants also were found guilty of various corruption charges and received prison terms ranging from 18 months to 15 years. Three defendants, Guido Sibaja, Edgar Valverde and Luis Adrian Quirós, will begin serving prison terms immediately.
As he exited the courtroom at 6:40 p.m., a defiant Rodríguez issued a brief statement, saying the charges against him are false.
"We will appeal. We will defend ourselves," Rodríguez said. "What happened today is just another step forward down the same road... I want any one of you to tell me one illegal thing I did to merit these charges."
While the three-hour trial was proceeding, the prosecutors' main witness, José Antonio Lobo, a former ICE director, boarded a plane bound for the U.S., the daily La Nación reported. Defense attorneys argued that Lobo should also be on trial for his role in the scandal.
"There's a big difference when one person is allowed to leave the country while another person is prohibited from leaving," Rodríguez said. "What a strange type of justice."
Rodríguez served as president from 1998-2002. In 2004, he resigned his post as OAS secretary general and returned to Costa Rica to face corruption charges. Upon his arrival at Costa Rica's Juan Santamaría International Airport, police arrested him.
Rodríguez becomes the second Costa Rican president arrested and convicted of bribery-related charges after serving in office. In 2009, former President Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990-1994), 62, received a five-year prison term for distributing millions of dollars in "commissions" in a medical equipment deal between a private company and Costa Rica's Social Security System, known as the Caja.
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