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Anti-Corruption Crusade Targets President

GRANADA Nicaragua – After threeyears of basing his administration on anaggressive anti-corruption campaign,President Enrique Bolaños could becomethe next political casualty to get caught inhis own dragnet.The Nicaraguan Comptroller General’sOffice this week presented theNational Assembly with a report on campaign-finance irregularities committed bythe Bolaños team in 2000, and called forthe President’s removal from office.The report says tens of millions of dollarsof unreported campaign funds fromunknown sources were allegedly used tofinance Bolaños’ presidential bid. At leastfive checks totaling $326,000 were movedthrough an offshore bank in St. George,according to the report, of which The TicoTimes has obtained a copy.UNDER Nicaragua’s Electoral Code,foreign campaign donations are not illegal,but unreported funds from unknownsources are. TheC o m p t r o l l e rGeneral’s Officeclaims it requestedinformation fromprivate banks andPresident Bolañosto explain the mysterydonations, butwas unable to shedany light on the suspiciousfunds.Bolaños, reportedlyon advice from his lawyers, neveranswered the Comptroller General’srequest for donor information, and theprivate banks – protected by old bankinglegislation that has not been entirelyfazed out yet – provided few additionalclues.The end result is a report that readsmore like a chronicle of information theComptroller General was unable to findout, rather than a detailed map of a moneytrail.NEVERTHELESS, the ComptrollerGeneral’s Office concluded Bolaños violatedelectoral law and should be dockedtwo months’ wages and stripped of thepresidency by Congress.Nicaraguan lawyers consulted thisweek by The Tico Times explained that theComptroller’s report is not legally binding,but can be administratively binding.In other words, the Comptroller Generalcould exercise the authority to withholdBolaños’ salary, but does not have thecompetency to remove him from office.Bolaños, who was in Libya this weekon a diplomatic visit, did not responddirectly to the Comptroller’s report bypress time. His lawyers, however, insistedthe President will not resign. They saidBolaños would use all legal recourses athis disposal to remain in office, includingthe Supreme Court and the DemocraticCharter of the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS).IN Nicaragua, leaders of the LiberalConstitutional Party and the SandinistaNational Liberation Front are calling forBolaños’ head.Daniel Ortega,former revolutionarypresident andsecretary generalof the SandinistaFront, blasted Bolañosas a “liar” anda “ridiculous clown”who had tricked the“innocent peopleof Nicaragua” whoelected him “ingood faith.”Ortega accused Bolaños of trying tosubjugate Nicaragua to the yanki government,and insisted that Nicaragua, not theUnited States, would have the final wordabout whether Bolaños remains in office.Congressional vice-president WilfredoNavarro, vice-president of the LiberalConstitutional Party, also called forBolaños’ resignation.“He should follow the example of theSecretary General of the OAS (formerCosta Rican President Miguel AngelRodríguez) andresign to spare usfurther embarrassment,”Navarrotold The TicoTimes this week.LEADERS ofthe upstartAlliance for theRepublic (APRE),the party Bolañosdefected to lastJune, are blamingthe crisis on the political brink-manshipauthored by Alemán and Ortega, as part ofthe infamous “pacto” formed between thetwo party bosses in 2000.APRE noted that the Com-ptrollerGeneral’s Office is made up of Liberalsand Sandinistas, and claims the report ispolitically motivated.Alejandro Fiallos, APRE’s mayoralcandidate for Managua, argued thatOrtega and Alemán are using theComptroller’s office to maintain a perpetualstate of political crisis, which theyhope to use as leverage to negotiate theirdemands with the President.Alemán’s top demand is to be let out ofjail, but Ortega is still holding his cardscloser to his chest.APRE president and secretary ofCongress Miguel López is urging Bolañosto resort to the law, not political negotiationswith Alemán and Ortega, to survivethe crisis.BOLAÑOS was elected President in2000 on the ticket of the incumbentLiberal Constitutional Party. He laterbroke from party ranks after launching acorruption campaign that landed his predecessorArnoldo Alemán in jail for fraud,money-laundering and corruption.The U.S. government and other membersof the international community havehailed Bolaños’ anti-corruption campaign.But it has cost him his political base inNicaragua.Most Liberal congressmen remainloyal to party boss Alemán, and insist thatBolaños, who served as Vice-Presidentunder Alemán, must also be guilty byassociation.Former President Alemán recently saidhe paid Bolaños an under-the-table supplementalsalary of $700,000 a year as Vice-President. Bolaños has not responded tothe allegation.U.S. Ambassador Barbara Moore toldThe Tico Times last week that the U.S.government fully supports PresidentBolaños. The embassy, however, did notrespond to requests for comment as thescandal unfolded this week.“BOLAÑOS’ anti-corruption crusadeis a farce,” congressman Navarro charged.“It is a smokescreen to destroy his politicalenemies.”Navarro said the National Assemblywould form a special commission to studythe Comptroller General’s report and thendecide on their options, probably withinthe next month.Navarro said the Liberals are willing tovote for impeachment, and it is up to theSandinistas whether or not NationalAssembly can muster the 58 votes (twothirds) needed to remove the Presidentfrom office.Some lawyers and politicians arearguing that the National Assembly hasno authority to remove the President.According to law, Congress can onlyvote to remove the President if he isdetermined incapable of governing –something corruption does not necessarilyimply, they say.WHILE the threat of removal fromoffice would appear to be the worst crisisthe Bolaños administration has faced sofar, Navarro doesn’t think it represents aproblem for Nicaragua’s institutionaldemocracy.“This is not a crisis, this is a continuationof the fight against corruption, whichwe support,” the congressman told TheTico Times. “In the war on corruption,whoever falls, falls.”Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando,meanwhile, this week asked Nicaraguansto pray.


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