Reporting: Costa Rica
OAS CHIEF SAYS HE GOT $140,000 LOAN
By Jay Brodell
American Reporter Correspondent
San José, Costa Rica
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica -- The secretary general of the Organization of American States said Thursday that he had received $140,000 from a French telecommunications firm to advance his candidacy for the job he now holds.
The man is former Costa Rican president Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, who was president from 1998 to 2002. The admission is significant because the French firm, Alcatel, is central to a growing scandal involving vast sums of money paid to the people who were involved with a cellular telephone contract.
Rodríguez, who was elected unanimously by the nations of the Western Hemisphere, took over the job just last Thursday.
The admission was made to Channel 6 Repretel, which broadcast a telephone call with Rodríguez live as part of its 7 p.m. news show. Rodríguez was in Washington, D.C. Rodríguez characterized the payment as a loan to help in his campaign to be secretary general of the international organization. But he was unclear as to when the loan was made. In 2002 or 2003, he said.
Earlier, both Repretel and Channel 7 Teletica revealed that the wife of a former official of the local telecommunications monopoly had paid the money to the wife of Rodríguez, Lorena Clare Facio.
The woman, Jean Philip Gallup, a U.S. citizen, is the wife of José Antonio Lobo, who served on the board of directors of the giant Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. The company, known as ICE, operates the nation's telephone systems.
The wife of Lobo has been linked to a $1.4 million payment that Alcatel made through intermediaries, including a bank in the Bahamas.
Alcatel won a $260 million contract to provide upgraded GSM cellular telephone service in Costa Rica. Complaints have been made about lack of coverage and lack of dial tones.
The current president, Abel Pacheco, appears to have accepted $100,000 from Alcatel for his 2001-02 campaign. He says he is unaware of the specifics, although others who worked on the campaign confirm the payment.
Costa Rican law forbids taking donations that big or taking donations from foreigners or foreign firms. Also, it is alleged, the Alcatel payment was never reported as required by law to the national election commission.
Lobo, who is at the center of the current scandal, served as minister of housing for Rodríguez.
Another director of the Costa Rican telecommunications monopoly also appears to have received a $1.2 million payment.
Rodríguez was president when the seeds of another scandal were planted. The national assembly agreed to accept a $39 million loan from Finland on the condition that the money be used to purchase medical equipment from Finland.
The loan generated an undisclosed $9 million commission for politically connected officials and the head of a leading pharmaceutical company. Some are now in jail and under investigation.
A judge prohibited Rafael Ángel Calderón, another former president, from leaving the country because of his apparent involvement in the loan deal.
Medical professionals said they did not really need the equipment that would be purchased with the loan.
Rodríguez embarked on a face-to-face campaign to win the post of OAS secretary general. He made personal visits to most of the leaders of the nations of the hemisphere. Following Costa Rican tradition, he sought a consensus, and he was elected unanimously last Spring.
Jay Brodell is Editor of A.M. Costa Rica.