Óscar Arias Sánchez, former president of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been accused of sexual assault.
The shocking claims against one of the most prominent figures in Costa Rica have been levied by psychiatrist and anti-nuclear activist Dr. Alexandra Arce von Herold, who sat with federal prosecutors for nearly three hours to file a criminal complaint on Monday, the New York Times reports.
Von Herold claims that Arias, now 78, assaulted her in his home in 2014 while she was there to discuss an important upcoming event in Vienna related to her activism in nuclear disarmament. While there, she alleges he approached her from behind, touched her breasts, put his hands up her skirt and penetrated her vaginally with his fingers.
“I just froze, and I didn’t know what to do,” she said in an interview. “I was so much in shock. That had never happened to me before.”
Arias was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for designing a plan to end civil war in Central America. He served two terms as President of Costa Rica from 1986 to 1990 and 2006 to 2010.
Through his lawyer, Rodolfo Brenes, Arias issued a short statement proclaiming his innocence.
“I deny categorically the accusations made against me,” he said. “I have never acted in a way that disrespected the will of any woman.”
At the moment, Arias is facing unrelated allegations of criminal malfeasance for his connection with the approval of a gold mining project by a Canadian company in 2008 before the necessary environmental analyses had been conducted.
Von Herold, who is the daughter of a legislator with Arias's party, reportedly visited his home many times with her mother before returning to discuss the event in Vienna. She claims to have told at least 15 people about the alleged assault, including her boyfriend, mother, father and brother. In an interview, her brother said that for a week after his sister told him about the incident, "it was like she had PTSD," he said. "She didn't feel safe."
At one point last year, she reportedly wrote lengthy posts on Facebook and Instagram detailing her allegations against Arias, but later deleted them at the suggestion of a Costa Rican journalist who warned her that they might have "negative repercussions."
Leveraging such a severe claim against a man of Arias' legacy was incomprehensible before the wave of the #MeToo movement spread through the United States, Von Herald said. After watching the allegations against prominent American figures like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein unfold, she says she was finally motivated to come forward with her story when she watched gymnasts testify against Olympic team doctor Larry Nassar.
“All the other women, that did, that helped me,” she said. “So I thought maybe, maybe, I can help other people too.”
She remains fearful of the response from Arias and the rest of her country, but said that she knew other young woman working around Arias were at risk.
“It’s the right thing to do,” she said, “even if it destroys me.”