- The Washington Times - Friday, October 8, 2004

The head of the Organization of American States resigned yesterday, just two weeks into his tenure, amid accusations that he participated in a bribery scandal involving a French telephone company.

Secretary-General Miguel Angel Rodriguez of Costa Rica disclosed his resignation in a letter read to a special session of the OAS permanent council. The resignation takes effect on Friday.

The first charges of wrongdoing against Mr. Rodriguez surfaced Sept. 30 and prompted a demand for his resignation by Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco.

In his letter, Mr. Rodriguez said he did not want to subject the OAS to a “cruel and long persecution of its secretary-general,” not only in judicial proceedings but also in the press.

“With humility, pain and anguish, I ask you and your countries for forgiveness for making you endure this difficult period,” Mr. Rodriguez said in his letter. It was read to the 34-member council by Costa Rica’s ambassador to the OAS, Luis Guardia.

Mr. Rodriguez did not attend the session, and OAS officials were uncertain of his whereabouts. He was expected on the Caribbean island of Grenada to view its recent hurricane damage but did not show up.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell noted that the United States had backed Mr. Rodriguez’s candidacy and described him as a man of “skill and determination.”

Mr. Powell, speaking to reporters shortly after the resignation announcement, said that he regretted that Mr. Rodriguez decided to step down but that he understood his reasons for doing it.

The former Costa Rican president will be succeeded by the second-ranking official in the OAS, Luigi Einaudi, a former U.S. State Department official with long experience in hemispheric issues.

Mr. Rodriguez decided to quit after Costa Rican Attorney General Farid Beirute said the OAS head has no immunity from prosecution on charges that he accepted $140,000 in a deal involving the French telephone company Alcatel.

Mr. Rodriguez acknowledged receiving money but said it was a loan to finance his campaign for the OAS leadership. He said he knew nothing of the purported Alcatel payment.

In his letter, Mr. Rodriguez said he faced a choice of remaining at the OAS to pursue his reform program or to devote himself to proving his innocence. He decided to try to clear his name.

Mr. Rodriguez was sworn in Sept. 23 to a five-year term as chief of the world’s oldest regional organization. Eleven American heads of state and government attended the ceremony.

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