Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 299 | Junio 2006




Envío team

The institutional investigation into the CENI bonds continued through May. The CENIs were issued by the Central Bank to cover losses caused by three bank failures in 2000, enriching through various illegal procedures not only the board members of the fraudulently collapsed banks but also three other national banks and a select group of public officials who gobbled up the high-interest securities. The Bolaños government has prioritized payment of the resulting enormous domestic debt with funds supposedly earmarked to reduce poverty.

Given that one of the people the journalistic and institutional investigations are sniffing around is ALN-PC presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre, Alemán’s treasury minister when the CENIs were issued and a significant stockholder in one of the banks earning such profits from them, some are calling for the case “not to be politicized.” The first to speak in defense of Montealegre, Washington’s presidential favorite, was US Ambassador Paul Trivelli, who commented that the published accusations contained “lots of smoke, but few facts.” Montealegre himself claimed that the investigation amounts to “political persecution,” a view shared by FSLN legislative representative Bayardo Arce, who was on the board of one of the failed banks. The newspaper La Prensa, which openly backs Montealegre’s candidacy, criticized the investigation by rival leftwing newspaper El Nuevo Diario, whose journalist Eloísa Ibarra did an excellent job of reporting the history of this colossal act of public corruption.

The dates began to be set this month for the trials of former President Arnoldo Alemán in Panama and the United States for laundering embezzled Nicaraguan state funds through banks in both countries. The preliminary hearing in Panama was announced for last November, while the one in Miami, first set for early September 2005, was postponed to January 2006 thanks to efforts by Alemán’s lawyers.

On May 18, after 17 days examining the abundant evidence, Panamanian Judge Adolfo Mejía decided to accept the criminal case filed against Alemán, who allegedly laundered US$56 million through the Panamanian financial system. The judge ordered preventive detention for Alemán, his wife and his father-in-law, and for Alemán’s former tax director, Byron Jerez, the “brains” behind these operations during the Alemán government. The judge also issued an international arrest order against the four while dismissing the case against another seven public officials and relatives of Alemán and Jerez. Alemán’s father-in-law learned of the sentence while in Miami and rushed back to Nicaragua, whose Constitution does not permit extradition of a national. Out of the country, any of them could be picked up by Interpol. The accused immediately sought the protection of Nicaragua’s courts to avoid being affected in any way by the Panamanian sentence.

The day after Judge Mejía’s decision, Alemán visited Cardinal Obando to “inform him” of his difficult situation. Three days later, Obando visited Alemán’s hacienda-prison for a social lunch, which PLC presidential candidate José Rizo dubbed “anecdotal.”

The very next day the government of Spain announced that Alemán was prohibited from entering Spanish territory for 10 years. Spain’s ambassador in Nicaragua tersely announced his government’s decision, without explaining the motives for the measure. This prohibition automatically extends to 14 other member countries of the European Union that have signed what’s called the Schengen Agreement: Germany, France, Belgium, the Low Countries, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland, as well as any future countries that subsequently adopt the agreement. The signatory countries can apply its “border suppression” to prevent entry into their territory of foreigners sentenced to more than a year of prison or who are believed to have committed serious criminal acts. Alemán minimized the blow, claiming that he is living happily in Nicaragua and this takes away any “temptation” to travel to Europe. Spain’s decision comes on top of the US government’s pressure on Alemán to leave politics and let other forces control the PLC, and is the first such case against any former Latin American ruler. One wonders what would happen if Alemán were to make good on his desire to run again in 2011 and actually win. Would the countries lift the sanction or maintain it, make him the first sitting Latin American ruler unable to set foot in Europe?

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