You could almost hear the cheers go up in the halls of Costa Rica’s grass roots environmental organizations and public universities: Environment (and Energy and Telecommunications) Minister Roberto Dobles had announced his resignation.
After a a series of environmental scandals and increasingly hostile criticism, Dobles, a former telecommunications executive, announced Friday that he will step down today. This, after Costa Rica’s Telenoticias TV news revealed last week that he awarded a mining concession to a corporation where his uncle (and cousin to President Oscar Arias) is the vice-president.
According to an investigation by the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC), and headed by one of the country’s most reputable investigative journalists, 100% of the shares of the company that won the concession are owned by a corporation that, in turn, is owned by four other corporations where Dobles’ wife, mother and other family members are owners.
These last corporations exist largely on paper, according to the PAC investigation, a practice common in Costa Rica for purchasing property, owning businesses or reducing “tax exposure.” Dobles himself was listed as the president of one corporation until he stepped down, five months before awarding the controversial concession.
Dobles claims he did nothing wrong, citing Costa Rica’s mining code, which prohibits government officials from granting mining concessions to family withing one degree of “consanguinidad,” or blood relation. Dobles said that his uncle is actually three degrees away, and claimed to not have known about the connection to the corporations owned by his immediate family.
He also noted that his uncle’s corporation originally applied for the concession — which is to pull sand and rock from a riverbed over five years — in 2001. It was through a combination of bureaucracy and coincidence, Dobles said, that it did not get through all the necessary hoops and red tape until just after he was named Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Minister by President Arias in 2006.
Speaking to the Legislative Assembly Monday, where opposition legislators pounded him with questions and accusations of fraud and corruption while friendly lawmakers came to his defense, Dobles said he was stepping down not because he had done anything wrong, but because he didn’t want the controversy to hinder the president’s agenda during the last year of his administration.
Dobles, who prides himself on his work on Costa Rica’s national climate change strategy and a massive tree planting campaign, has become enemy number one for many environmental organizations after a series of decisions that appeared to put business interests before environmental protection.
Both Dobles and Arias are now facing an investigation by the state Prosecutor’s Office into whether the concession broke the law.