Agents from the Judicial Investigation Police and the Chief Prosecutor’s Office’s financial crimes unit Friday arrested two officials from the Libertarian Movement Party, or ML, and charged them with defrauding the government of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign fund reimbursements after the party allegedly billed the government for dozens of political workshops that never took place.
Authorities arrested ML treasurer Ronaldo Alfaro during a raid on party headquarters in Los Yoses, east of San José. Róger Segura, a party accountant, was also arrested Friday.
Police searched the Escazú home of ML President Otto Guevara, a former presidential candidate, although he has not been charged in the ongoing investigation.
The arrests are the latest in a deepening political scandal involving one of Costa Rica’s most important political parties and first made public by the daily La Nación.
Carlos Solano, the party’s secretary of training, told prosecutors last Monday that 194 campaign workshops, for which the ML billed the Supreme Elections Tribunal ₡210 million ($412,000), never happened.
In a statement obtained by La Nación, Solano said that in order to fake the workshops’ attendance documents, he and another employee, Luis Chavarría, collected signatures and identification numbers “at any cost” between June 2009 and January 2010, leading up to the 2010 elections. Chavarría is an adviser to congressman Adonay Enríquez.
According to La Nación, Solano told prosecutors that the collection of signatures was done under Alfaro’s orders.
On Wednesday, two Libertarian lawmakers – Patricia Pérez and Carlos Góngora – called for Guevara to be replaced as the party’s president, the newspaper reported. However, Guevara has not stepped down.
In addition to fraud charges, Solano and Segura also face charges of forgery and falsification of documents. In a statement, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office said prosecutors would investigate whether party leaders ordered the scheme.
Solano told investigators that he and Chavarría obtained signatures from random people during various events around the country, not at workshops as the party claimed in official documentation submitted to the elections tribunal.
Signatures were obtained at the annual Palmares festival in January 2010 just ahead of the national election, in Puntarenas during the last week of the campaign, in the lobby of the Bougainvillea Hotel in Santo Domingo de Heredia and in the mall Metrocentro in Cartago. Additional signatures came from attendees of a presentation given by Guevara in La Uruca’s Pueblo Antiguo and in the Villa Olímpica of Desamparados.
“In none of these cases did they give training concerning libertarian goals to the people listed as attendees on those lists,” Solano said, according to La Nación.
The ML charged the elections tribunal more than ₡1 million ($1,960) per workshop.
In other cases, workshops were held, but already paid for. Ulrich Wacker, a representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a political nonprofit organization based in Germany, said the organization paid the ML $22,000 for workshops that did take place, but party members double-billed the elections tribunal.
“Ronaldo and Roger, separately, indicated to me that their prior actions were motivated by pressure from Otto Guevara, who demanded that we exceed the goal of ₡250 million [$490,000] in expenses from workshops that could be reimbursed by the [elections tribunal]”, Solano’s statement said.
Guevara said Solano’s statements were “absolutely false.”
Tico Times reporter Ellen Weathers contributed to this story.