Security minister apologized for inappropriate telephone call

The security minster made a public apology Wednesday for making an inappropriate telephone call to a prosecutor and then received a tongue lashing by opposition deputies. One even suggested that the minister, José María Tijerino resign.

Tijerino, himself a former chief prosecutor, talked about what everyone already knew. He telephoned Emilia Navas, the former chief prosecutor for financial crimes and corruption, to find out why Rodrigo Arias, the former minister of the Presidencia, was being called in for questioning. She testified last week.

The testimony was before the special committee investigating the Arias administration’s use of some $2 million from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. The money was paid off the books, and in some cases the payments appeared to be designed to silence opponents of the free trade treaty with the United States. Administration officials have said that many of the individuals were hired as political advisers.

As minister of the Presidencia, Rodrigo Arias was involved in the reception and payment of the money.

Ms. Navas recounted the developments when she planned to call in Rodrigo Arias for a formal interrogation session.

Lawmakers already knew that the formal questioning, called an indagatoria, had been canceled by order of Lillian Gómez, who was acting fiscal general or chief prosecutor at the time. That was after Jorge Chaverría, the current fiscal general, called her and asked her to postpone the session
until he could study the facts. That call was made after Chaverría had been appointed by supreme court magistrates but before he took office.

Tijerino said what he did was an error but he did not know how big at the time. “If I had known the consequences, I never would have made that call,” Tijerino told lawmakers Wednesday.

Víctor Granados Calvo, an opposition lawmaker, wanted to know how frequently such calls are made. Tijerino, fiscal general from 1990 to 1995, said that the popular opinion is that prosecutors are subject to political influences, but in reality most do not respond to such pressure.

It was Manrique Oviedo Guzmán, another opposition lawmaker, who suggested the security minster resign. For most of the tongue lashings Tijerino remained silent.

Tijerino has said that he simply was making an inquiry on behalf of Rodrigo Arias. The former minster thought the investigation into the slush fund had been closed. Tijerino suggested Wednesday that he was making the call as a citizen and friend of Rodrigo Arias and not as a minister, but the lawmakers rejected this contention.

A week ago Juan Carlos Cubillo Miranda and Cristian Fernández Mora, both prosecutors, testified. They with Ms. Navas made the decision to continue with the investigation even though the questioning of Rodrigo Arias was put off. The events happened in October.

The case has wide political ramifications. Rodrigo Arias is a candidate for presidency in 2012.

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