114. Telegram 2196 From the Embassy in Costa Rica to the Department of State1

2196. Subj: Extradition: Robert Vesco. Ref: A) San Jose 2195; B) San Jose 2182.

1. In making its decision on further appeal in this case, Department should have in mind following additional considerations.

a) Odio estimates 80 percent probability of success if we appeal; that is, that Segunda Sala penal will reverse first penal judge and order preliminary arrest warrant against Vesco.

b) Alternative outcome is that Sala would reaffirm judge’s decision and leave us legally where we are today. Odio now believes that there is only minimal chance (perhaps 5 percent) that Sala would go beyond this position to rule adversely on basic merits of our case (i.e., question of double criminality) and thus in effect shut the door on this extradition request (although we of course could try to come back at a later time with a renewed case).

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c) Defense lawyers for Vesco would be free to submit a memorial of their own to Segunda Sala, but according to Odio neither we nor they would be allowed to present oral arguments at this point. At most I might be asked to swear to the correctness of the U.S. warrant and indictment against Vesco which has not been transmitted to the court through Foreign Ministry and Procuraduria.

d) There would be, however, definite political and psychological costs here if we go ahead with appeal, especially if we lose. There is growing comment and criticism here, even among those friendly to us, that U.S. has been (1) inept, (2) on weak legal grounds, (3) bull-headed, or (4) a bully toward either Vesco or the GOCR in the sense that we persist in demanding arrest without complying with local legal requirements—or all of the above—in our single-minded pursuit of this case. More specifically, there are growing signs that the Figueres administration and the PLN feel harassed by our actions and may really believe that the USG wants to punish them for their association with Vesco. Otherwise, they may reason, why do we badger them in what appears to be a weak case when (they allege) Vesco isn’t even here? Intellectually Facio and some others—perhaps including Figueres—know better but the persecution syndrome is strong.

2. I believe therefore that we will incur political costs by proceeding with appeal. I think these costs are manageable but there is some chance that they may be considerable and could adversely affect broader U.S. interests in Costa Rica. The Department should be aware of this.

3. On balance, however, I believe that we should go ahead with appeal on ground of principle. We believe we have a good legal case which has not been fully understood here. The integrity of our Extradition Treaty with Costa Rica has been challenged by lower court interpretation on the question of preliminary arrest and should be defended. If we fail to proceed now we may add to the belief that we did not have good case in the first place. And we may leave Vesco free to turn to Costa Rica as a refuge. This may happen anyway but we would at least have tried to maintain our legal interpretations.

4. In short, the question is whether we should stick to the legal principle involved and try to finish the battle we started letting the chips fall where they may, or retreat for the time being (from the appeal on treaty interpretation), appear to admit we have a weak case and wait for the documents to make a renewed case. In balance I am of the opinion we should stick to principle and what we think to be the merits of the case. If chips fall it is because of the Figueres administration’s circumstances here, not our doing. I think we can only continue to insist as a general posture that we have no defore [desire?] to hurt anyone, we are merely defending our own judicial processes’ integrity.

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5. If, of course, there is from Washington’s viewpoint no urgency or need to push the Vesco extradition or no particular need to preserve the treaty’s interpretation, this would affect our assessments of the trade-offs. Since we do not know how the Bahamas’ extradition process is going, it is difficult for us to know how much we should try to block this refuge here. Assuming that the U.S. wishes to press Vesco’s extradition and to maintain its principle on the treaty interpretation, however, I would recommend we proceed albeit recognizing and being prepared for adverse political and propaganda consequences.

Please deliver at opening of business, Tuesday June 19.

  1. Summary: While noting that U.S. efforts to extradite Robert Vesco were generating some resentment in Costa Rica, the Embassy recommended taking the extradition request to a higher court.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Box 779, Latin America, Costa Rica. Confidential; Priority; Exdis. All brackets are in the original except “[desire?]” added for clarity. In telegram 2195, June 18, Vaky outlined the memorial that he would present to the Costa Rican courts if the U.S. Government decided to proceed with an appeal. (Ibid.) In telegram 119541 to San José, June 19, the Department instructed the Embassy to proceed with an appeal, judging that “advantages of clarifying charges and consolidating case to date, as well as keeping pressure on Vesco, outweigh the risks of a possible turndown by the court.” (Ibid.) In telegrams 2228, June 20, and 2641, July 23, both from San José, the Embassy reported both a first and second appeal had been rejected. (Ibid.)