The Miami Herald
Oct. 08, 2004

Corruption allegations hit boiling point

Argentina called for a former Costa Rican president to step down from a hemispheric post over a campaign-finance scandal that has also touched current leader Abel Pacheco.


SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Argentina Thursday urged the resignation of OAS Secretary General Miguel Angel Rodríguez, a former president of Costa Rica caught in a scandal, as lawmakers here investigated contributions to the current president's campaign.

The allegations against Rodríguez ''are strong,'' said Argentina's ambassador to the Organization of American States, Rodolfo Gil. ''We believe he should resign,'' the Associated Press reported from Buenos Aires.

Argentina was the first member of the 34-nation hemispheric body to call outright for Rodríguez's resignation from the post he assumed last month. Other nations have remained silent or uncommitted about the scandal.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim on Thursday said Rodríguez should be given time to defend himself. ''No one is guilty until it is proven,'' he told reporters in Rio de Janeiro.

Rodríguez allegedly accepted part of a ''prize'' paid to an official in his 1998-2002 administration by France-based Alcatel after it won a $150 million government contract in 2001 to install 400,000 cellular lines in Costa Rica.

Rodríguez has denied knowingly accepting any Alcatel money and vowed to defend himself before the judicial system.

But the scandal has added to the growing concerns over corruption in Costa Rica that have also touched current President Abel Pacheco.

The Congress Thursday held hearings on reports that Alcatel had donated $100,000 apiece to Pacheco and his rival in the 2002 campaign, Rolando Araya. Vice President Luis Fishman told congressmen that a meeting took place between company representatives during the campaign but denied there was any violation of the law. ''During this meeting they didn't talk about how much [money],'' Fishman told Congress. ``They spoke of reinforcing democracy and helping political parties.''

It's not yet clear whether the contributions violated campaign finance laws here, and so far no formal charges have been filed. The law stipulates that foreigners cannot contribute to political parties, but it does not say anything about individual politicians. The law does, however, state that all contributions should be made public.

Pacheco's campaign treasurer said his lawyer advised him not to speak on the matter, while Araya has said that he learned of the contribution to his campaign only after the local media reported it.

In May, La Nación daily reported that up to $500,000 in checks from Taiwanese donors passed through Pacheco's campaign bank accounts, located in Panama. The attorney general's office says it is investigating the case since Pacheco's campaign allegedly did not reveal it received the money.

La Nación, which also first published the Alcatel-Rodríguez allegation, meanwhile reported Thursday that a law firm linked to Alcatel had made two payments to one of Rodríguez' credit-card accounts in July 2002 totaling more than $20,000.

The law firm, Servicios Notariales QC, received some $10 million from Alcatel and later transferred part of the money to a former Rodríguez government official who has told prosecutors that he in turn passed part of the money to Rodríguez, La Nación reported.