WASHINGTON – The head of the Organization of American States resigned Friday, just two weeks into his tenure, after allegations that he participated in a bribery scandal involving a French telephone company.
Secretary-General Miguel Angel Rodriguez, from Costa Rica, disclosed his resignation in a letter read to a special session of the organization’s permanent council. The resignation will take effect next Friday.
Within hours, the Costa Rican government issued an international detention order for Rodriguez, the country’s former president. No formal charges have been filed against Rodriguez, whose whereabouts Friday was not known.
The international detention order was delivered to the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica, said Costa Rican Attorney General Francisco Dall’Anese in San Jose.
The first allegations of wrongdoing against Rodriguez surfaced Sept. 30 and prompted a demand for his resignation by President Abel Pacheco of Costa Rica.
In his letter, 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 media.
“With humility, pain and anguish, I ask you and your countries for forgiveness for making you endure this difficult period,” Rodriguez said in his letter. It was read to the 34-member council by its Costa Rican ambassador, Luis Guardia.
Rodriguez did not attend the session, and OAS officials were uncertain of his whereabouts. He also was expected on the Caribbean island of Grenada to view its recent hurricane damage but did not show up.
Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that the United States had backed Rodriguez’s candidacy and described him as a man of “skill and determination.”
Powell, speaking to reporters shortly after the resignation announcement, regretted that Rodriguez decided to step down but said he understood his reasons for doing it.
The former Costa Rican president will be succeeded by the second-ranking official in the organization, Luigi Einaudi, an American and a former State Department official with long experience in hemispheric issues.
Rodriguez decided to quit after Costa Rican Attorney General Farid Beirute said Rodriguez has no immunity from prosecution on allegations he accepted $140,000 in a deal involving the French telephone company Alcatel.
Pacheco, the Costa Rican president, said he was “totally satisfied” with Rodriguez’s decision to resign, but said he should have done it sooner. “He has caused us enough shame,” Pacheco said.
Rodriguez acknowledged receiving the money but said it was a loan to finance his campaign for the OAS leadership, and he knew nothing of the alleged Alcatel payment.
In his letter, Rodriguez said he faced a choice of remaining at the organization to pursue his reform program or to devote himself exclusively to proving his innocence. He decided to try to clear his name.
Rodriguez was sworn in Sept. 23 to a five-year term as chief of the world’s oldest regional organization. Eleven hemisphere heads of state and government attended the ceremony.