High court absolves chief prosecutor in Rodrigo Arias case

The Corte Suprema de Justicia has voted 21 to 1 not to punish the fiscal general, Jorge Chavarría Guzmán, in the case of Rodrigo Arias Sánchez.

The court started an investigation in January after newspapers reported that Chavarría, after he was named but before he was sworn in, asked that a formal interrogation of Arias be suspended.

The court said it could not substantiate a charge of influence peddling by the fiscal general and noted that the interrogation of Arias eventually took place May 31.

This is the case related to the use by the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration of some $2 million that came from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica. Rodrigo Arias was the chief of staff for his brother.

The Arias administration said that the money was not public money, although several Costa Rican agencies said that the funds should have been treated as such and placed in a budget. The money was used to encourage the passage of the free trade treaty with the United States because the administration hired some treaty opponents as legislative consultants, among other uses. Basically the money was a slush fund.

The court Monday released a chronicle of events which began when a prosecutor, Emilia Navas. took over the job of reorganizing the office of Delitos Económicos,
Corrupción y Tributarios last August. She said in a deposition that she found the Arias case, which dated from 2008, in a file in a prosecutor’s office.

Last Oct. 5 she decided the case had merit and moved to interrogate Rodrigo Arias, said the court. Arias was supposed to appear Oct.14.

Oct. 8 Chavarría met with the then-acting fiscal general, Lilliam Gómez, and asked her to delay the appearance by Arias until he had studied the case, the court said. Ms. Navas objected to this decision and asked Ms. Gómez to send her a written instruction, which came via email.

The court said it could not prove that José María Tijerino, who then was security minister, called Chavarría Oct. 8 or 9 to ask about the Arias investigation. Nor could the court prove that Chavarría personally contacted prosecutors after he was sworn in to suspend the interrogation, the court said.

Tijerino has said several times that he did make calls involving the case and that he regretted that he had done so.

The supreme court appoints the chief prosecutor, who then heads the Minsterio Público, the prosecutorial agency.

In action Monday, Luis Paulino Mora Mora was re-elected to another four-year term as president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia. The vote was unanimous.

Mora has served 42 years in the judiciary.

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