Category Archives: Corruption

Dobles goes down

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.

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Justice and El Pacto in Nicaragua

Arnoldo Alemán, the former president of Nicaragua who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for stealing $100 million from the hemisphere’s second poorest nation, has had his conviction dropped and been set free by the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Court. He had served only four years of his sentence, little of which was spent in prison. At the time of the ruling, he had been under a type of house arrest that gave him free movement throughout the country.

Tim Rogers, writing for The Nica Times:

“The ruling to free Alemán came less than an hour before the National Assembly met to elect its new directorate, in what critics are calling a clear political negotiation for control of the legislative branch. Alemán two days earlier denied reports that he negotiating his freedom with President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front.

Though the Sandinista Supreme Court judges denounced the ruling, analyst insists the Sandinistas were clearly accomplices in a decision that could be considered the penultimate act of the power-sharing pact formed a decade ago by Ortega and Alemán.”

And writing again, for The Miami Herald:

“In a strong sign of a deal, shortly after the disgraced Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) boss was freed, President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista Front won the presidency of the National Assembly, effectively giving the Sandinistas control over all four branches of government.Upon being notified of his freedom, Alemán, who had been serving out his jail term under the cushy conditions of house arrest at his sprawling hacienda compound outside Managua, thanked ”God and the Virgin” that “there is finally justice.”

Within two hours of the court ruling, the National Assembly, which had been paralyzed for more than two months following scandal-plagued Nov. 9 municipal elections, had reconvened and elected its new directorate, reelecting Sandinista lawmaker Rene Núñez as president of the legislature for another two years.

Although Alemán had denied earlier rumors that he was negotiating his freedom in exchange for giving Ortega power over the National Assembly, analysts insist there’s no other way to interpret Friday’s rapid series of events.

”This is a continuation of the pacto, a renovation of the pacto,” said political analyst Carlos Tünnermann, referring to the decade-old power-sharing pact forged between Ortega and Alemán.

Tünnermann and others speculate that part of the renegotiation of terms between Alemán and Ortega is an initiative to reform the constitution to allow Ortega to remain in power after his five-year presidential term ends in January 2012.