President Pacheco Investigated
CHIEF Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese gavePresident Abel Pacheco a Christmas Eve surprise thisyear: on Dec. 24, the Prosecutor’s Office announcedit has reopened its investigation of foreign donationsto Pacheco’s 2002 presidential campaign.This news means every Costa Rican Presidentsince 1990 is now being scrutinized for the allegedacceptance of illegal or unethical payments.Rafael Ángel Calderón Jr. (1990-1994), JoséMaría Figueres (1994-1998) and Miguel ÁngelRodríguez (1998-2002) are all being questionedregarding payments allegedly made to their privateaccounts by foreign companies with public contractsin Costa Rica. Pacheco’s case is the only one relatedto questionable campaign funding.DESPITE the new developments and a SupremeCourt ruling that promises to facilitate the investigation,Pacheco, fresh from a vacation in Spain and theCaribbean, appeared calm and confident this week,saying he will cooperate with authorities and give uphis diplomatic immunity if such a measure is requested.He also continued to reiterate the stance he hasmaintained since the controversy began in late 2002:he said he was aware of the donations but not of theirsize or how they were spent, and that the foreigncompanies did not receive any special treatment as aresult of their support.“I don’t say more (than that) because I don’tknow more,” he said Tuesday after his weeklyCabinet meeting.THE controversy regarding Pacheco’s campaign funds spilled into the news in 2002.National media reported his campaign hadreceived donations from foreign businesses,including $500,000 from Taiwanese firms,which is illegal under the Electoral Code.The Prosecutor’s Office launched aninvestigation, but then-Chief ProsecutorFernando Arias brought it to a halt whenhe filed an appeal before the PenalBranch of the Supreme Court (Sala III),arguing there were insufficient groundsfor the investigation, according to wireservice EFE.An investigation by a special committeeof the Legislative Assembly continued,however. The committee called Rodríguezto testify regarding allegations he hadpocketed public campaign funds (TT, June18, 2004), just months before the recentlyelected Secretary General of theOrganization of American States (OAS)stepped down from the post to deal withcorruption allegations against him (TT,Oct. 22, 2004).AFTER the government corruptionscandals broke late last year, Vice-President Luis Fishman revealed thatPacheco’s campaign had accepted$100,000 from Paris-based telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel, the same companyaccused of making illegal payments to formerofficials of the Costa Rican ElectricityInstitute (ICE) in connection with a multimillion-dollar contract it obtained in 2001(TT, Oct. 1, 2004).Rodríguez and Figueres are among theother alleged recipients of Alcatel payments.ON Nov. 26, 2004, the Sala III rejectedArias’ 2002 appeal, saying his conclusionabout the case was premature. Thenew ruling allowed current prosecutorDall’Anese to reopen the investigation.On Monday, the ConstitutionalChamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV)announced its ruling that the brokeragehouse Valores Cuscatlán, a subsidiary ofBanco Cuscatlán, must provide informationabout an account belonging toPacheco’s political party, the SocialChristian Unity Party.In the ruling, justices warned JuanCarlos Schimarelli, manager of the brokeragehouse, that failure to comply with theorder could result in three months to twoyears in prison or a fine equal to 20-60days’ worth of his salary.ON Tuesday, Pacheco told the press heis willing to give up his immunity if asked.“Why not, if it were to happen? But itrequires a process,” he said, adding that theassembly would need to make a formalrequest that he renounce the diplomaticprivilege before he would take that step.The announcement was not the firstPacheco has made regarding his immunity.Shortly after the campaign-finance allegationswere first made in 2002, he said hehad renounced the privilege, a move someanalysts said helped his popularity exceed80% in polls later that year.When consulted by The Tico Timeslast year, however, Casa Presidencialspokeswoman Ivannia Arias said Pachecohad never officially given up his immunity,but had opened his personal bankaccounts to prosecutors (TT, Oct. 22,2004).Political analyst Rodolfo Cerdas said in2002 that the issue of Pacheco’s immunityis irrelevant, since the Electoral Codeallows only parties, not candidates, to beheld accountable for accepting illegal donations,meaning that the President could notbe prosecuted (TT, Sept. 27, 2002).TWO of Pacheco’s predecessors andfellow investigation subjects, ex-Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez, areserving preventive detention orders in thepenitentiary La Reforma outside of SanJosé. The fourth ex-President under scrutiny,Figueres, remains in Switzerland afterrefusing to heed the assembly’s demandsthat he return to explain his payments fromAlcatel (TT, Dec. 3, 2004).Calderón’s order, extended by sixmonths on Dec. 21, 2004, was reducedon New Year’s Eve by three months,making March 22 his new potentialrelease date.Both former heads of state, who are inseparate but identical individual cells, nowhave Web sites to publicize their cause (seeseparate story).
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