Roberto Rivas, the head of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council, has been missing from the public agenda for over a month now, ever since the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned him for fraud and corruption through the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act.
Although sources linked to Rivas assure that he’s still in the country, the magistrate isn’t exercising his functions in the offices of the Supreme Electoral Council, although he has neither resigned nor been removed from his charge. As the days go by, President Daniel Ortega continues to remain silent and the institutions charged with overseeing State resources refuse to investigate him.
“We call for the immediate resignation of the current president of the Supreme Electoral Council,” demanded the Group of 27, made up of intellectuals, political figures and members of civil society.
Chief Comptroller Luis Angel Montenegro, stated that it’s “beyond the competency” of the institution he represents to investigate the president of the Electoral Council, suspected of illicit accumulation of wealth even before being sanctioned by the United States.
“Whether he earns 60,000 dollars and he has other businesses – these things aren’t within our scope,” Montenegro expressed on the television channel “100% News”. According to the comptroller, nobody has come to his office to request that he evaluate Rivas, or to ask for the declaration of Rivas’ integrity.
“If someone requests it, we act in accordance with the Law; and if the owner of the declaration says that it shouldn’t be looked at, it won’t be looked at. I have no reason to walk around speculating if he earns $60,000 dollars a year, or whether he owns mansions, yachts, airplanes. It doesn’t spark my interest, and I have no reason to go around speculating,” Montenegro stated.
Maria Dolores Aleman, one of the comptrollers, daughter of former president Arnoldo Aleman and a political ally of Comandante Ortega, also declared to Confidencial that initiating an investigation of Rivas was beyond her scope.
“We can’t [investigate] him as a person. We can only investigate the institution. Read the law,” Aleman recommended. “We don’t have the authority. That’s the province of the Attorney General’s office. We are a posteriori – we can’t, we can’t! You’d have to change the law, because it doesn’t contemplate it,” was her excuse, in the face of the corruption accusations leveled against Rivas as a public official.
Agustin Jarquin Anaya, formerly the head of the Comptroller’s office, contradicted the current comptrollers: “That’s the obligation, the natural function, of that institution.” Jarquin Anaya, who was also a deputy in the National Assembly, assured that the Comptroller’s office can well sanction people who serve as public officials. To give an example, he noted that the declaration of assets that an official must submit “is personal”.
“The Declaration of Integrity that elected or appointed high level officials must submit – be it of their salary or of the volume of assets that they manage – is submitted to the Comptroller for safe-keeping, and it’s a point of reference for evaluating their performance as an official,” refuted Jarquin. “If they show increased assets during their period as a high official, they need to explain it. The Comptroller can require such an explanation at any time,” he insisted to Confidencial.
When a public official is suspected of illicit enrichment or another illegal act, the Comptroller can carry out investigations and different proceedings to determine if there are faults or missing resources that were never spent in that institution,” elaborated Jarquin.
“The law assigns responsibilities of an administrative, civil or penal nature to specific people. When have you seen an institution taken to trial?” the former Comptroller questioned.
A litany of corruption cases
Carlos Tunnermann, a member of the Group of 27 and a political analyst, insisted that the Comptroller should “legally investigate” magistrate Rivas. The former Nicaraguan ambassador to the United States recalled that the ghost of the Coprosa Case, the Commission for the Promotion of the Archdiocese which Rivas headed from 1981- 2000, is also hanging over Rivas.
According to news reports from that era, in the period from 1998 to 2002 the Commission imported goods worth a total of US $6,400,808 dollars, in the form of used clothing, luxury vehicles, computers and hardware. Though the Comptroller initially went after Rivas, the political pact sealed between Ortega and the Magistrate’s protector, Cardenal Miguel Obando y Bravo, extinguished the focus of tension. Later came the 2008 electoral fraud, documented by the opposition.
“It would be enough to go to the Comptroller and request that the inspectors get those files out of the archives, files in which there’s criminal responsibility, to know whether this man is involved in corruption or not,” stated Tunnermann ironically, referring to Comptroller Montenegro’s refusal to investigate the Magistrate.
Tunnermann brought up another journalistic investigation, memorable for the recordings exposing Rivas. Between 2004 and 2008, in his role as President of the Electoral Power, he extracted 407 million cordobas in an irregular way.
“It’s curious – while in other countries they’re conducting investigations and in one other [the US] they sanction Roberto Rivas, here the authorities do nothing,” noted Tunnermann. The former ambassador questions how an official who earns an average of US $60,000 annually could be the owner of airplanes, yachts and mansions in Spain and Costa Rica.
Why is Costa Rica the one investigating?
“If he dedicated all that money to his investments, given the fact that his salary has to cover medical, food and family expenses, it would only leave him enough to buy the three jets he has. And the mansions he has in Costa Rica? According to the Costa Rican assessors, the ones in the Villareal residential area are worth nearly two and a half million dollars,” Tunnermann affirmed.
Following the Magnitsky sanctions, the Costa Rican public prosecutor’s office opened investigations, and the Superintendent of Financial Entities demanded information whether Rivas had bank accounts in Costa Rica.
“The National Assembly Ethics Commission could well initiate an investigation. And the Public Prosecutor’s office and the Attorney General could as well, because the things that are in play are also State assets. It’s incredible!” Tunnermann lamented.
Confidencial attempted to communicate with Mirta Carrion Cano, a deputy with the Liberal Constitutionalist Party and president of the Ethics Commission, to find out if Parliament will initiate any process against Rivas. However, there was no response to our calls.
The Group of 27 is calling for the resignation of Rivas. In their pronouncement emitted last week, they demanded that the Electoral Power and its “territorial structures be completely renovated, with people who are honest and pluralistic and at the same time that an integral judicial reform be put in motion.”
The only figure in the Ortega government who has broken the silence regarding the case of Rivas is the economic advisor Bayardo Arce. “The United States, in yet another imperial tantrum, decides that there are 13 people in the world who are corrupt and violators of human rights,” Arce rebuked the reporters who were interviewing him.
“What are these corrupt actions and human rights violations they’re accusing Roberto Rivas of?” he challenged.
Writer Gioconda Belli, a member of the Group of 27, described Arce’s attitude as that of a government that is “deaf, blind and mute.” “It neither hears what we citizens are demanding, nor does it say anything about Roberto Rivas, hoping to create a situation in which it’s normal for the government to give no explanations,” Belli affirmed.
While Ortega decides Rivas’ fate, the presidency of the Supreme Electoral Council is being assumed de facto by Vice President Lumberto Campbell. Meanwhile, the offices where Rivas’s.
Translated by Habana Times