Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 251 | Junio 2002



Will the Fight against Corruption Bring a Lasting Climatic Change?

Will the positive climate being blown our way by the fight against corruption be a lasting one? Given the ferocious resistance to the change, reasonable uncertainty is starting to wither the bloom of hope.

Nitlápan-Envío team

Artists sometimes find the best description of reality in metaphors. Writer Sergio Ramírez recently described what Nicaragua has been experiencing since President Bolaños launched his war on corruption as a "change of climate." The country itself was unchanged, as its institutions were still marked by the pact, no new leaders had emerged and, for the most part, the same magistrates, judges, comptrollers, politicians, legislators, attorney generals, public prosecutors, private entrepreneurs and bankers were conducting business as usual—albeit a lot less dishonestly. Yet, everything seemed different because something had indeed changed. Ramírez had put his finger on it: the change was in the climate. And with changes of climate, Ramírez expounded, all of life changes. Some species develop more, others appear and proliferate, many are weakened, and some die out.
The events that have ushered in the country’s rain-drenched winter season this past month have sown reasonable doubt that this change of climate will be a lasting one in our country. If the atmosphere of two months ago was infused with a new oxygen from which hope blossomed, that rare air has now been contaminated, wilting though not yet withering our hope.

Alemán puts up a fight

The first phase of the judicial process in the Channel 6 fraud case plus the two cases involving Byron Jerez, former President Arnoldo Alemán’s intimate business partner, concluded with a dozen top public officials of the Alemán government, Jerez included, in prison and another half dozen fugitives from justice.

In light of that never-imagined response to the sacking of state coffers, the various "species" with a stake in the issue began putting up even more visible resistance to this climatic change. Those who have done so most ferociously and publicly are from the pro-Alemán sector of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), which no longer controls the executive branch even though the PLC is nominally the governing party. Their reaction was to be expected, since there is strong evidence that "all roads lead to Alemán" in the three cases. He and his cohorts know the same thing could happen in upcoming corruption cases, particularly since the paper trails on those corresponding to his government are still fresh.

With Arnoldo Alemán the animal most endangered by this new climate, he is logically leading the resistance, albeit surreptitiously, as he has withdrawn from the limelight. Minus the public bombast, he is employing all the considerable power still at his command from his post as legislative president, his ties with other national economic and political power groups, the leadership he still exercises among the Liberal grass roots and the many favors owed him within his party. The strength of Alemán’s resistance is explained by his fear of going to prison.

The US Embassy in Managua fired a warning shot over his bow this month. When word got out that it was holding onto his diplomatic passport for an unusually long time, speculation mounted that Alemán was in for the same treatment as Jerez, whose US entry visa was revoked just after last year’s Nicaraguan elections. In his typical braggart manner, Alemán tried to quell that rumor by claiming that he had a visa good for 11 years, but when he finally got it back, it was stamped valid only for a year. While less drastic than what happened to Jerez, it was a clear warning to stop putting up such resistance to the new government’s anti-corruption struggle.

The new leadership style that President Enrique Bolaños is seeking to instill in the PLC, arguing that it will make for a much more effective anti-Sandinismo, has pleased the Bush administration but earned Alemán’s equally ferocious resistance. Will Alemán continue to insist on his own presidential candidacy for the 2006 elections? His obstinate unwillingness to leave center stage—a megalomaniac passion he shares with Daniel Ortega—is feeding the conviction that one of the best ways to prevent corruption would be a constitutional reform that absolutely prohibits presidential re-election. As it now stands, only consecutive re-election is prohibited, although an individual is limited to two terms in office.

Resistance from society

The fight against corruption is touching people from all social sectors, while revealing the profound inequities with which this society has learned to coexist. Those at the powerless end of the socio-economic ladder who feel threatened are coat-tailing the resistance from the Alemán camp. Another, perhaps even more profound resistance is emanating from the many who think there are "good" and "bad" thieves, depending on which side of one’s own ideological, religious or political fence the thief is on.
The glaring privileges enjoyed by those now serving prison sentences for defrauding the state have caused frustration and skepticism about the spirit of justice and equity of this new anti-corruption struggle. Not only was Byron Jerez’s cell fitted out by his family with all the comforts, but he makes regular declarations of innocence from his cellular phone to the pro-Alemán radio station and in TV interviews filmed in his cell in which he claims to be an assiduous Bible reader.

The strange prison life of these white-collar criminals (visits at any hour without the visitors being searched, glaring luxuries, exceptions and leave privileges, all only for them) has enraged the relatives of so many impoverished prisoners who must live in inhumane prison conditions. Even in the context of this noble cause, they understandably feel defrauded by this repetition of the law of the funnel: the wide cup for a dozen rich prisoners and the narrow spout for over 3,000 other prisoners who range from poor to poorer.
In the school opened by the fight against corruption, all of society is an apprentice. The lessons are hard, and are made even harder by a cultural atavism that hinders or even opposes learning. Expressions such as this are beginning to be heard: "So what do we get out of throwing Alemán and the others in jail? In a country like this, won’t doing justice just make things worse for those who already have it bad?" Once an anti-corruption fight stops being an abstract cause and actually starts to go after real corrupt people with real names who yesterday were sought after, beloved and revered for the favors they gave out, resistance comes from all sides.

The FSLN’s resistance is hidden

The resistance coming from the power circles surrounding Daniel Ortega that control the FSLN cannot be seen. These people are more experienced at covering their tracks and their movements are less public and more carefully calculated. FSLN leaders, legislators and spokespeople constantly reiterate their support for the fight against corruption, but when conversation turns to a case involving them, such as the bankruptcy of Interbank, they modulate their language and back off. With uncertainty still surrounding the results of the clash between the Alemán and Bolaños wings of the PLC, which is the pivot of national political life today, this species’ survival strategy is to hunker down and wait. Nonetheless, it seems clear to the Sandinista grass roots that the "change of climate" would have been unthinkable had Ortega won last year’s presidential elections.

There have been public moves—and probably covert ones we know nothing about—to change the institutional correlation of forces in a way that will put a stop to future investigations. One of the most strategic was a bill hammered out as part of the still-operative PLC-FSLN pact to "strengthen" the Office of Comptroller General, the real aim of which is to undermine the more independent office of Attorney General. After being brandished as a threat, the initiative now appears frozen.

A hopeful speech

President Bolaños found himself surrounded by various species of animals putting up resistance yet urged to continue the fight by the international community, which he would soon be seeing in Madrid at the European Union Summit with Latin American and Caribbean heads of state. On the afternoon of May 14, Bolaños called together the authorities of all state branches and institutions—only National Assembly president Arnoldo Alemán failed to turn up—to deliver a pedagogical speech on corruption. The speech was broadcast live to the nation as well, via a radio and TV hook-up.

The most concrete point of the speech was to call attention to the election of five Supreme Court justices in July and request the election of honest professionals "without party loyalties or commitments to anyone." The reference to the need to start undoing the knots of a pact that has hobbled three of the four state branches was clear.

A speech for all seasons and all species, its overriding objective was to bolster the hopes of the disillusioned, subdue the resistance of his opponents and encourage those participating in the fight against corruption to stay firm on such a rocky road. Among other things, Bolaños pointed out that "the burden of corruption weighing down our people is tremendously heavy: over US$600 million that could have been used to alleviate their poverty... Some say that continuing this struggle will foment national destabilization, but justice can never destabilize peace; on the contrary, it strengthens it... One is either against corruption or with it by being corrupt; there is no other alternative... The fight against corruption is not only non-negotiable and undefeatable; it also cannot be postponed… The start of this millennium is characterized by winds of honesty, transparency and efficiency. Nicaragua is one of the most backward countries in the world in these aspects… We cannot deny that there may be corrupt people in the FSLN, but this struggle is against the corrupt, not against the FSLN. We cannot deny that there may be corrupt people in the PLC, but this struggle is against the corrupt, not against the PLC. We cannot deny that there may be corrupt people in private enterprise, but this struggle is against the corrupt, not against private business. We cannot deny that there may be corrupt people in the banking institutions, but this struggle is against the corrupt, not against the banks. It is not a struggle against the FSLN, much less against my Constitutionalist Liberal Party. It is not against economic sectors, not against banks, not against business people, not against any church, certainly not against mine, which I love so much... I am certain that over 90% of all Nicaraguans are with me in this struggle." No speech had won more sympathy for Bolaños since he took office.
Three days later, Deputy Attorney General Francisco Fiallos used another metaphor to reflect on one of the limits of this moral undertaking. "There is rot wherever we touch," he told the civil society representatives grouped in the National Social and Economic Planning Council (CONPES), indicating the colossal volume of work that lies ahead given a bankrupt state and a society whose consciousness is permeated by corruption.

Alberto Novoa:
A threatening symbol

In this context, the measure Fiallos took only a week later, with President Bolaños’ immediate endorsement, caught public opinion off guard and created huge uncertainty: he replaced Alberto Novoa as Special Prosecutor in the Channel 6 case and the first Jerez case, which was now in the wrapping-up stage. A criminal lawyer and long-time law professor, Novoa had meticulously constructed both cases and belligerently shepherded them through the courts, providing useful pedagogical explanations in interviews to help the population understand this novel process. Battling all opposing powers, he had demonstrated the penal responsibility of both Jerez and the rest of the "dirty dozen." Overnight, this man of humble origins and a popular style had justifiably become a symbol of the belief that things could change, that laws and institutions could be inspiring servants of the people and that public officials could speak up, calling things, respectfully, by their exact name.
The changing climate brought this promising species to the fore and created the conditions for him to captivate public opinion. But given the power bases being threatened, his rise to visibility was not without conflicts. Alemán supporters repeatedly used their media to accuse Novoa of "directing the circus" and "stirring up hatred." And the national elite, those promoters of technocratic and aseptic language who permeate the Bolaños government, did not feel represented by this tie-less professional who spoke with unusual frankness and did not even own a car, much less a fully accessorized Land Rover like theirs. He was the male counterpart of Gertrudis Arias, the judge who dared to interrogate Alemán and file corruption charges against him. Like Novoa, she comes from humble origins, speaks her mind and has no car, and as she wears no makeup or jewelry she leaves the impression that what you see is what you get.

At the time he was taken off the cases, Novoa was, like Arias, one of President Bolaños’ most valuable assets in convincing the entire population that the fight against corruption was serious and would go all the way. Replacing him has been qualified as Bolaños’ most serious error since taking office. The media, which have played such an important role in forging public consciousness of just how serious corruption is, sense what happened to Novoa as a watershed moment. With the announcement of his removal on May 24, worrying shifts began to be felt in the new climate’s prevailing winds.

Resistance in the Church

If all roads in the fight against corruption lead to Alemán, analysts of every stripe concur that various roads in the case of Special Prosecutor Novoa’s removal led to members of the Catholic Church hierarchy. His declarations regarding investigations into possible corruption cases involving the Managuan Archdiocesan Social Promotion Commission (COPROSA) were, according to the attorney general’s office, "the straw that broke the camel’s back." While technical, as Novoa himself was quick to point out, his declarations were indeed audacious, and unfortunately, in this case as in so many others, journalists highlighted and even misrepresented them. Nonetheless, Novoa merited an admonishment, not dismissal.
The Catholic hierarchy has not looked kindly on the fight against corruption. In the Channel 6 case, the Vicar of the Archdiocese of Managua, Monsignor Eddy Montenegro, named by the Alemán government as "civil society’s representative" on the board of directors of the international airport in Managua, appears implicated because he authorized one of the checks used in the fraud. In the investigation of the case, Montenegro was subpoenaed several times to make a declaration, but he did not obey any of the citations, even though he was granted the right to be questioned in his office without the media present.

In the case of the credit notes Byron Jerez so profusely issued for the illicit purchase of luxury vehicles for private individuals, Bosco Vivas, Bishop of León, seems to have ended up with one, but it was not among the many embargoed by judicial order. He went right on using his, refusing to explain how he had acquired it. On May 12, in a homily delivered in León, he made the following comment on the possible effects of the fight against corruption: "This could provoke bloodshed. Preparations for it are made when society begins to divide and we confront each other as enemies, when the weapons of slander provoke the desire for annihilation, including at bloody levels…."
Thus, in the first two cases that ushered in the change of national climate, both of which Novoa prosecuted, two religious authorities treated the evidence as slander and refused to behave as citizens respectful of the law and desirous of collaborating in Nicaragua’s efforts against corruption.

Where the economic battle
meets the anti-corruption fight

Eclipsed by the corruption fight during these first months of the new government, the country’s massive economic problems finally resurfaced, adding to the social commotion and institutional paralysis triggered by Novoa’s dismissal. With the recession worsening, the urgency of reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has obliged the Bolaños government to cut the budget by 550 million córdobas (nearly $40 million) and collect more taxes through a series of emergency fiscal measures. Neither move has earned the government consensus from any corner of the population. Without the expected major investments, which are either understandably being held back for now or are not coming at all, the productive associations, particularly the agricultural ones, complain that they are heading from abandonment to bankruptcy. The electricity distribution utility, which was privatized to the Spanish company Unión Fenosa, has brought one problem after another, the most recent being the announcement of rate hikes, which augur even greater recession. And despite the fact that Bolaños has imposed austerity measures on the executive branch, Nicaragua is still burdened with a number of top officials who do not want to renounce their excessive salaries and cushy privileges.

The agreement with the IMF is largely a sine qua non for international cooperation to release its disbursements. And before it will sign, the IMF requires the reestablishment of macroeconomic order, particularly a reduction in the fiscal deficit, which burgeoned out of control during the last year of the Alemán government. To accomplish that, the IMF has urged the reduction of tax exonerations, which it interprets as unnecessary subsidies.
The government has been forewarning about this reduction, which it says will be done on a case-by-case basis. It has been shown that even more serious than the amount exonerated is the discretion with which the exonerations are applied. In this context, the media began to poke around in the exonerations benefiting COPROSA, which is under the authority of Cardinal Miguel Obando, Archbishop of Managua, and run by Roberto Rivas, also president of the electoral branch of government.

Church services

The media began to publish data about COPROSA in April, highlighting the duty-free importation of dozens of vehicles, some of which were not used for social works but ended up in the hands of certain priests’ relatives or friends. The "COPROSA case" grew to the point of becoming a strong candidate for official investigation. And sure enough, in mid-April, the Office of Comptroller General (CGR) and the General Customs Division started looking into COPROSA’s exonerated vehicles. In May, alarming evidence was discovered of discretionary donations to church authorities in a separate CGR investigation into the Corporation of Regional Construction Companies (COERCO), a Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure entity in which all kinds of irregularities, ghost projects and unrecorded income have already been found.

The information about COPROSA had various black holes. In a questionable defense of the organization, Jorge Solórzano, Auxiliary Bishop of Managua, declared that "Protestants" also received exonerations. While true, that is hardly the point. The Tax Justice Law grants NGOs the right to bring two vehicles—never luxury ones—into the country tax-free every five years, but as both Solórzano and Bishop of Estelí Juan Abelardo Mata recognized, COPROSA had brought in more than a hundred.

Trying to sidestep any value judgment about COPROSA’s exonerations, Monsignor Eddy Montenegro perplexed many by claiming that COPROSA is not an NGO, but is governed "by the laws of the ecclesiastical government." It was immediately confirmed, however, that COPROSA had been granted legal status as "a civil nonprofit association"— the definition of an NGO—in 1991. Adding to the confusion, the Ministry of Government, responsible for registering all such organizations, declared that COPROSA was not registered as an NGO. It was in the context of shedding light on COPROSA’s legal identity that Novoa made the statement that cost him his post. "COPROSA exists," he told a journalist "and one of its duties is to present accounting books. It is disguising its actions. And for me, the effects present in this case are those of deceit to constitute a swindle."
By the beginning of June, the comptroller general’s office had accounted for over 160 vehicles, 40 of them top-of-the-line SUVs, and quantities of other exonerated merchandise brought in during the five years of the Alemán government. At the end of May, a documented published by La Prensa demonstrated that Byron Jerez, while head of the General Tax Division, had directed the General Customs Division to grant COPROSA "special treatment."
As this debate raged, Roberto Rivas, also questioned for irregularities in his management of Supreme Electoral Council funds, and well known for his ostentatious life style, had to recognize that several COPROSA vehicles ended up in the hands of his own friends and relatives.

Oaths in April

As the COPROSA story began to build momentum in April, Cardinal Obando charged that he had evidence from "totally credible people"—whose names he refused to provide because it would violate sacramental secrecy—that Bolaños government officials had lobbied the Vatican to get him retired from his post. This story continued to be milked for weeks, with President Bolaños repeatedly denying the intrigue, Cardinal Obando similarly repeating his version and politicians of various stripes demonstrating solidarity with the cardinal. Bolaños finally put a damper on the incident by swearing by his deceased parents and son that it was untrue, but in the process surely learned the intended lesson that he ought to be prudent with the Catholic hierarchy. With that, the cardinal finally opted for silence, even suspending his post-Sunday service press briefings at the Cathedral in which he had offered his views on events of national life for years.
The media are beating out the institutions in the corruption investigation race, and in their eagerness to impose their own rhythm and styles, prudence is not one of their strengths. As they continued poking around the COPROSA case, they uncovered another surprising news story in April, this one confirmed by Auxiliary Bishop of Managua Jorge Solórzano. It turns out that Managua’s religious authorities had ceded their own radio frequency to the pro-Alemán radio station "La Poderosa," back when Alemán was President. It has been the most active and virulent station in the campaign against Bolaños and his anti-corruption fight, frequently repeating a spot denouncing Bolaños’ self-proclaimed New Era as a "New Anti-Christian Era."

"Dominant manipulation"

On May 12, the Nicaraguan bishops issued the communiqué that everyone had been waiting for, the first in which they would evaluate the new government’s campaign against corruption. The statement dedicated three of its nine points, the most direct ones, to criticizing the media for "sensationalism," claiming they were provoking what it called "dominant manipulation." The bishops proposed a "fresh start," suggesting that the way out of the country’s problems was to "move beyond the wounds of the past, which have caused so much suffering, through consensus between the new government authorities and the other political forces." It was clearly encouraging an understanding between the Alemán and Bolaños camps.

Except for the pro-Alemán leadership within the PLC, which applauded the communiqué, all other sectors and individual figures from Bolaños on down either gave it a wide birth or openly criticized it. Figures as unquestionably loyal to the Church as former education minister Humberto Belli confessed to feeling confused by the text’s content and not represented as a Catholic by its message. To herd this scattering flock back together, Bishop Vegas sternly stated that it "is an error to think that the Church’s opinion is just one among many ideas and need not be taken decidedly into account." He identified the opinion of the Church with the defense of "God’s rights."
Coming only two days after the bishops’ pronouncement, Bolaños’ speech can also be read as his official response, since at that point in the struggle against corruption the Catholic hierarchy was the most powerful sector expressing open resistance to the change of climate.

The Cardinal’s influence

After Novoa’s removal, which Cardinal Obando called a laudable presidential measure, Bolaños made a decision that created even more confusion, leaving people wondering whether his intention was to seek powerful support or publicly identify Obando with the Alemán band. Whatever his motive, President Bolaños invited Obando to dinner at his house and afterwards announced that he had requested the cardinal to use "his influence" to convince pro-Alemán legislators in the National Assembly to approve the budget reforms requested by the IMF.

Although Obando said he was not some politician who could assume this mission and the legislators in question said they were not "under the jurisdiction of the Catholic hierarchy," Bolaños’ gesture confirmed the distorted Church-State relationship that persists in Nicaragua. Not only is it completely out of place in Bolaños’ proclaimed New Era, it is also one of many official expressions that violate the constitutional principle that Nicaragua is a lay state. In this regard, Nicaragua is very much the exception in Central America, where the other religious hierarchies behave very differently and are treated in a much more modern way.

Not an inch backward?

Many have yet to recover from the disillusionment caused by Novoa’s dismissal, and the questions it raised about the future have not yet been entirely laid to rest. The Office of Attorney General has entrusted the two cases Novoa was in charge of to Eduardo Boza, a prosecuting attorney with an honest professional trajectory. It has also assured that "for several weeks now the COPROSA case has been on the list that this office will investigate with the same determination, careful detail and professionalism with which we have treated other processes." For his part, President Bolaños insisted that the fight against corruption would not move "one inch backward."
Two weeks after the crisis, the Office of Attorney General announced that it has a list of over two dozen cases with solid evidence of fraud against the state, some larger than others, involving ministries, decentralized institutions, state branches and banks. It will use this list to initiate a second wave in the anti-corruption campaign. Will COPROSA be accused?

Back down,
negotiate, postpone?

There are still reasons to think that the government’s political will to deal with the cancer of corruption has not waned. For one thing, international pressure and support will make it hard to throw in the towel so soon. At the end of May, the Ambassadors of Norway, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Switzerland and Canada, together with the United Nations Representative in Nicaragua, signed a US$560,000 collaboration agreement with the Bolaños government to continue the fight against corruption. At the signing, the Ambassador of Norway acknowledged that this is no easy task. "It requires strength, prudence and perseverance. It is a fight that must be undertaken on different fronts and at different levels, including a change of attitudes and culture among the people. That is why it will take a long time." It is equally realistic, however, to recognize that this will has come up against a formidable and perhaps insuperable obstacle in some key members of the Catholic hierarchy who are strongly suggesting that the government not take the fight any further.
There is no shortage of reasons for backing down, negotiating or at least putting off the investigation of COPROSA and the roads leading out from it. The most subjective is the pre-conciliar Catholic religiosity reflected in the trajectory and declarations of the President and a good many of his advisers and Cabinet ministers. The most obvious is that the growing number of cases to be investigated requires selectivity. And the most profound is that the government knows very well that if there is one thing our impoverished society, morally and materially abused for centuries, is not prepared for it is to go against the religious authorities it has traditionally been taught to venerate.

Most of the population has a hard time accepting that these are fallible men, capable of evil as well as good, corruption and waste as well as austerity and dedication. Most people see God himself represented in these men. And the Catholic consciousness associates God more with punishment and the fear of what could happen to us after death than with freedom and love. As the fruit of the millenarian preaching of many of these fallible men, they also associate God more with the threat of Hell in the hereafter than with the possibility of building paradises in the here and now. It would thus not be surprising for the government to intuit that taking on "the sacred" risks creating complex cultural conflicts, unleashing not just fear but a sacred panic, even losing control…not to mention many votes.

Will this tiny fire spread?

Climate is erratic, as we are seeing all over the planet today. Will it turn out that the climatic changes in Nicaragua, like so many other realities, are only ephemeral, will-o-the-wispish changes? We hope not. With a much wider and thus always consoling perspective, one that locates us on the geological clock, we remember that all climatic changes are brief, at least relatively speaking.

Another writer, Eduardo Galeano, has metaphorically summarized the past ten thousand years of human history from the agricultural revolution right up to the Internet revolution as "a tiny fire between two blocks of ice." Between two glacial ages, a little bit of heat let Homo sapiens spread all over the planet, domesticate plants and animals, and invent the wheel, writing, travel, cities and an extremely complex social organization with all the political and religious hierarchies we have experienced over the course of human history.

Potholes along the Anti-Corruption Trail

On May 13, Byron Jerez, director of the General Tax Division (DGI) during most of the Alemán administration, received a second prison sentence. This time he was convicted of masterminding the issuing of over 60 credit notes (worth around $3 million) to ENITEL, the state telecommunications company, to pay for goods and services that went not to the DGI but to his personal businesses. Four other former top government officials—two of them fugitives from justice—were sentenced for their involvement in the same crime. Around the same time, the Office of Attorney General formally requested that the United States freeze Jerez’s US bank accounts and properties, although it is still not known just how much those assets are worth.

The two sentences against Jerez and those against other upper-level officials imprisoned in the three corruption cases tried so far are being appealed. Lawyers, relatives and business associates of all the men involved have consistently pressured the judges in the assigned Appeals Court hearing rooms—all of whom are pro-FSLN—to reverse the lower court convictions.

Meanwhile, a court request to the National Assembly that it strip Arnoldo Alemán of his parliamentary immunity so he can stand trial in the Channel 6 case reached its expected dead end as his backers in the pro-Alemán media and on the PLC legislative bench closed ranks around him. But the media are not giving up pursuit. They continue publicizing other known cases involving the former President and uncovering new ones. The Office of Comptroller General (CGR) analyzed the case of a heliport Alemán had built on his hacienda with US$35,000 in state funds. Attempting to talk his way out of being tried for that case, Alemán told the CGR that this work did not increase his personal patrimony, and offered a preposterous solution: “remove or demolish the work at the state’s greatest convenience.” The files of three other cases involving Alemán that are pending in the CGR seem to have been “lost” and no explanation has been offered. La Prensa investigated yet another case, presenting evidence that Alemán, Jerez and three other top government officials created two construction companies to compete for public investments with the unfair advantage of inside information. Among the irregular activities of these two companies, of which Alemán is majority stockholder, was an attempt to sell the state 41 million cement paving blocks financed with World Bank credits to improve rural roads over the coming years.

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