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Nicaraguan officials resist cooperating in probe

March 19, 2010

Nicaraguan embassy and consulate personnel in San José have refrained from offering their defense in a Costa Rican probe into the alleged illegal transport and use of diplomatic vehicles here, Costa Rican finance officials said this week.

Tico government prosecutors are investigating allegations that Nicaraguan Supreme Elections Council President Roberto Rivas, as well as family members and Nicaraguan officials residing here, were involved in illegally importing luxury vehicles in 2008 and 2009. The cars, including a BMW and a Mercedes Benz, bore diplomatic license plates but were allegedly being put to personal use by member´s of Rivas´ family.

The prosecutors in charge of the case were not available for comment.

By allegedly crossing the border into Costa Rica with diplomatic plates, according to a report in the daily La Nación, Rivas would have avoided paying more than ¢ 50 million (almost $95,000) in customs duties on the cars.

Late last year, La Nación reported that these cars are not being used by Nicaraguan diplomats for official business, but rather by Rivas´ family members. In July 2009, Rivas´ wife, Ileana Delgado, reportedly was involved in a car accident while driving the Mercedes in Santa Ana, a suburb southwest of San José.

The cars are registered under the names of Ambassador to Costa Rica Harold Rivas, the head elections magistrate´s brother, and Guillermo Matus Cortes, a consulate functionary. Both men are suspected of participating in customs tax fraud. However, when the Finance Ministry summoned them to testify on March 3 about the alleged misuse of the cars, they pulled a no-show. “None of the functionaries or representatives attended either of the two appointments, nor did they send anything in writing,” Juan Carlos Brenes, director of the ministry´s fiscal incentives division, said in an e-mailed statement to The Tico Times.

Ambassador Rivas refused to comment on the investigation.

Meanwhile, the case has ruffled diplomatic feathers in Nicaragua. Foreign Minister Samuel Santos told news media earlier this month that the envoy to Costa Rica “enjoys absolute immunity and it´s an outrage what (Costa Rican investigators) are doing.”

Costa Rica´s Foreign Ministry did not respond to the comment.

Roberto Rivas, who is seeking re-election as head magistrate of the controversy-prone elections council, has tried to dispel the allegations on Nicaraguan television.

Recently on channel 23´s “Danilo Lacayo en Vivo,” Rivas said, “If I had assets in Costa Rica, which I don´t, OK, they would be insignificant, not what´s been described in certain media.”

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