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NICARAGUA
Alemán found guilty
Inforpress Centroamericana, IPS
1/6/2004
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Former president is sentenced to 20 years in prison, while pact between Liberals and Sandinistas is broken.

Nicaraguans rejoiced over the ruling which condemned former president Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002) to 20 years in prison for money laundering, misappropriation of public funds, fraud, peculation, electoral crime and criminal association.

In a 110-page ruling, Judge Juana Méndez of the Managua Criminal District defended her sentence saying that Alemán committed fraud and, in his condition as president, “directed his subordinates” to embezzle funds on his behalf.

The judge cited Article 90 of the Penal Code to impose the maximum sentence of 20 years and a fine of US$17.4 million.

According to calculations by the Attorney General of Nicaragua, Alemán is alleged during his government to have stolen more than $100 million, diverted to his different companies, including the Nicaraguan Democratic Foundation, which had bank accounts in Panama (LP, Sept. 9, 2002).

Alemán, 57, leader of the ruling Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), has also been barred from standing for public office, putting an end to hopes of a sector of his party that he could stand for president again in 2006. The former president heard the ruling on his farm El Chile, 20 km south of the city of Managua. Alemán had been transferred to El Chile on Nov. 26 — for health reasons — from the jail of Tipitapa where he had been held since Aug. 11 (LP, Aug. 27, 2003).

In the process, the former director of Alemán’s tax agency, Byron Jerez, was found innocent on charges of money laundering. Jerez had admitted to diverting $8.7 million of public funds in benefit of shell companies created by Alemán. Nevertheless, Jerez must serve an 8-year sentence for fraud against the State and he still faces two more judicial processes.

“The guilty ruling against Alemán was well-received by Nicaraguans but the absolution of Jerez caused incredulity because he was associated with the former president,” said analyst Alejandro Serrano. “The Liberals had hoped that Alemán could be their candidate for elections in 2006.”

The family of the former president, speaking through his defense lawyer Mauricio Martínez, announced that the sentence would be appealed, arguing that there is no proof to show that Alemán signed any document that incriminates him.

In a televised interview, Méndez said that the evidence presented by the Attorney General “was overwhelming” and that the former president never demonstrated his innocence.

“Alemán’s defense lawyer, Mauricio Martínez, spent his time trying to call for nullities during the whole process, which is called a technical defense. He challenged the acts of the other side but there was no back up proof” to demonstrate Alemán’s innocence, the judge said.

Méndez’s ruling came two days after making official the rupture of the political alliance between the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the PLC, after the latter decided to approve the Budget Law despite the FSLN’s opposition. The PLC also withdrew its signatures in favor of postponing the municipal elections planned for next year, an initiative presented by the FSLN.

The pact between the PLC and the FSLN was signed in 1999 between Alemán and former president Daniel Ortega (1979-1990) ahead of elections in order to personally benefit both (LP, Sept. 20, 1999). In addition, it allowed the FSLN to obtain a larger number of posts in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) and the Comptroller General of the Republic.

In the National Assembly, the FSLN as well as the PLC are negotiating with other legislators to secure them the presidency and the congress leadership.

 President Enrique Bolaños, of the PLC, said that it was an exaggeration to call the rupture of the pact between the FSLN and PLC a “political crisis.” The president said he had the support of the population, apparently motivating his announcement that reforms to the judiciary and the electoral system would be carried out via a referendum.

Ortega has shown that he holds a lot of influence in the judiciary. According to some jurists, Alemán’s appeal could take years or could be to resolved soon. Everything depends on the political accords reached by the FSLN and PLC, separately, with other forces.

The former president of the CSE, Rosa Marina Zelaya, said that to carry out a referendum on reforms in the judiciary and electoral system, the law establishes that deputies (of the National Assembly), are the ones who must authorize them, that is, the same parliamentary majority that is trying to reach pacts.”

According to a poll by M y R Consultants, 70 percent of those interviewed believe that Ortega and Alemán control the country. At the same time, 80 percent said they did not have confidence in the judiciary.


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