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BATTLE BETWEEN PRESIDENT & COMPTROLLER GENERAL ESCALATES, ENDANGERING NICARAGUA'S STANDING IN INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.

Nicarguan President Arnoldo Aleman won a round in his long- running struggle with Comptroller General Agustin Jarquin regarding accusations of corruption. Their battles have moved into the courts and the National Assembly, where the governing Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC) is considering impeachment proceedings against Jarquin. But the spectacle may hurt Nicaragua as it seeks international aid to repair damage caused by Hurricane Mitch. In late March, the Corte Suprema de Justicia sided with Aleman on a question of law related to Jarquin's insistence that the president reveal details about the 900% increase in his personal assets since 1990. Earlier this year, Jarquin began an investigation of the properties Aleman has acquired since taking office as president in 1997 and before that as mayor of Managua (see NotiCen, 1999-02-25). Jarquin has demanded the president report his assets as required under the ethics law for public officials (Ley de Integridad Moral de Funcionarios Publicos). Aleman maintains he need only report those assets when he leaves office. He bases his opinion on Art. 130 of the Constitution, which says public officials must report assets before taking office and upon leaving. He asked the court to confirm that the Constitution takes precedence over the ethics statute. In just three days, the court rendered a split opinion supporting Aleman. Three of the nine magistrates participating voted against the president. In a dissenting opinion, magistrate Marvin Aguilar argued that nothing in the Constitution or the law requires the court to give consulting opinions and that such opinions are not legally binding as would be a ruling of unconditionality. He warned that the majority opinion "could be erroneous or incomplete." In her dissent, Yadira Centeno said Art. 130 lays out a general requirement but leaves the details of reporting assets to the law. And magistrate Francisco Rosales said the Constitution and the law are not contradictory but complementary on the issue of reporting assets. Jarquin said the court opinion resolved nothing, and he renewed his demand that Aleman report on the growth of his assets. Earlier in March, Jarquin lost the support of the Frente Sandinista de Liberacion Nacional (FSLN) in the legislature. In a reversal, Deputy Victor Hugo Tinoco said the party saw no merit in Jarquin's request to have the National Assembly investigate Aleman's wealth. Jarquin's report was incomplete, said Tinoco, although he also expressed concern about the president's refusal to release information on his assets. At the same time, Jarquin's party, the Unidad Social Cristiana, called on the Assembly to lift Aleman's immunity and begin an investigation of his assets. Assembly considers impeachment of Jarquin With support from Aleman's majority PLC, the Assembly's Anti- Corruption Committee has moved forward with impeachment proceedings against Jarquin based on charges brought by Attorney General Julio Centeno. The charges stem from an old accusation that Jarquin misused money from Social Security funds in 1996. In late March, a criminal court judge accepted other charges from Centeno against Jarquin, assistant comptroller Claudia Frixione, and three others in the comptroller general's office for falsification of public documents, fraud, and embezzlement. The case involves payments from that office to a fictitious "advisor" in 1998. Documents apparently copied from comptroller files show Jarquin's office authorized payments totaling US$27,000 to television commentator Danilo Lacayo under a false name. The judge has proceeded with the hearing despite Jarquin's and Frixione's immunity from prosecution, saying immunity would be taken up during the trial. National Assembly president Ivan Escobar promised to have a committee consider lifting their immunity. Frixione responded with formal charges against Aleman for violating the ethics law by refusing to report his assets for the period 1990-1997. She also charged that the president's personal advisor, Jaime Morales, had illegally taken documents from the comptroller general's office concerning the contract with Lacayo. Citing the Constitution, Frixione said the charges based on those documents had no legal standing because they were obtained illegally. She said there was nothing wrong with the Lacayo contract, recommended by an assistant, except that a false name had been used without Jarquin's knowledge. International pressure to end dispute builds The Aleman-Jarquin struggle has caused strong reaction within Nicaragua as well as from the international community. In Nicaragua, the Foro de Transparencia e Integridad, organized by the government in February, called for action against corruption. The forum, whose members include civil and government representatives, Cardenal Miguel Obando y Bravo, World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn, and IDB president Enrique Iglesias, began meeting in February to discuss toughening anti-corruption laws and to press for a law against nepotism and another to give redress to citizens for misdeeds of government officials. The forum's recommendations are to form part of a Plan Nacional de Integridad. Martin Stabile, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) representative in Nicaragua, asked the government for a timetable of steps it will take to curb corruption along with cost estimates that might be underwritten by international donors. Kent Degerfelt, European Union (EU) Ambassador in Nicaragua, told the daily La Prensa the Aleman-Jarquin battle was causing "concern" within donor countries, especially as it might hurt Nicaragua's proposals for aid at the upcoming meeting of the donor countries' Consultative Group in Stockholm. Sweden's Ambassador to Nicaragua Jan Bjeringer said, "There is a risk that the conflicts between the executive and the comptroller might create a negative image for some donor countries, which could affect their donations." Nicaragua and other countries hit by Hurricane Mitch (see EcoCentral, 1998-11-12) will present reconstruction plans to the Consultative Group in Stockholm. But Aleman and Jarquin have taken their disputes into that arena as well. At the Stockholm meeting, Jarquin and the other regional comptrollers, members of the Organizacion de Contralores de Centroamerica y el Caribe (OCEFS), plan to ask for funds for international auditing of the use of reconstruction funds. Jarquin needs Aleman's support because the president currently represents the regional presidents as secretary pro tem of Central American integration. But instead of backing a regional system, Aleman set up his own oversight mechanism for Nicaragua and is looking for financial support for it from the IDB. [Sources: Notimex, 02/05/99, 03/20/99, 03/22/99; La Prensa (Nicaragua), 02/05/99, 02/07/99, 03/03/99, 03/05/99, 03/21/99, 03/26/99, 03/29/99]
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Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Date:Apr 15, 1999
Words:1046
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