San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Cops raid Libertarian HQ, investigate possible ties to controversial online poker sites

Electoral and judicial officials raided the Libertarian Movement Party (ML) headquarters on Wednesday, to investigate the sources of party funds during the presidential political campaign of 2010.

Police also searched and seized documents from the offices of Cristian Arguedas, who managed the party’s campaign finances, as well as the house of Carla Vanessa Gómez, one of the Libertarians’ top donors.

Prosecutors from the Public Ministry have joined forces with members of the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) to review several donations and loans received by the party over the past three years.

On May 13, TSE auditors sent the preliminary results of their investigation to the  Public Ministry as part of a collaboration agreement.

“So far we have gathered valuable information from the raids,” said Guillermo Hernández, leading prosecutor at the Public Ministry’s Financial Crimes Division. “We will request permission from a judge to waive Bank Secrecy Act protection from several firms associated with the party so we can fully understand where all its funding comes from.”

The investigation was prompted by a series of complaints by two opposition congressmen from the Citizens Action Party (PAC), Olivier Pérez and Sergio Alfaro, in January 2010.

Back then, both legislators urged electoral authorities to investigate the source of $433,000, used to fund part of the Libertarian Movement’s campaigns, including the bid for president.

In a press conference that month, PAC lawmakers said that Otto Guevara, a Libertarian presidential candidate in 2010, had received money from a firm, La Seguridad de los Océanos, which could not afford to donate such large amounts of cash. Gómez, a businesswoman unknown in politics, runs the company.

Guevara, 50, a private attorney, is the ML’s current president and co-founder.

According to the PAC members, Gómez didn’t have a record of ever being employed by the company or filing taxes for her earnings as an employer. To protect the investment, she had Guevara sign a mortgage contract on one of his properties in the Pacific province of Puntarenas.

PAC legislators also pointed out that Guevara’s property would only be worth $100,000 – significantly less than the amount borrowed from Gómez.

In an interview with the daily La Nación on Jan. 12, 2010, Gómez said she barely knew Guevara and that she lent money to the ML because it was good business. She also said she liked to take risks when investing.

At the time, Guevara said the complaints by opposition lawmakers were part of a political show orchestrated by his opponents.

Guevara also received an additional $250,000 in loans from a private investor named José Luis Jop Gazel on an unknown date sometime between July 2009 and February 2010. The former candidate became indebted for a total of more than $600,000 in order to pay television and radio ads, transportation and other campaign logistics.

The Tico Times called Guevara’s cellphone multiple times seeking comment, but he didn’t answer or return the calls.

“I feel pleased this investigation is in progress,” said Pérez. “It is important for Costa Ricans to know where the funding of a political party comes from. Guevara’s explanations were never satisfactory and that raises suspicion among the citizens.”

“Minor offenses to the electoral laws merit a fine against the party,” said Luis Antonio Sobrado, president of the TSE. “If we come across evidence that could imply that a penal offense has occurred during the campaign process, then we will hand the information over to judicial authorities.”

Sobrado said all political parties are subject to the same auditing process.

This month, the Libertarian Movement also faced another investigation involving Olman Rímola, one of the top political contributors to the party, who also ran for mayor of Escazú, a western suburb of San José (TT, May 13).

According to police, Rímola and two other people allegedly received money from various online wagering sites in the United States, including and Full Tilt Poker.

According to data provided by the TSE, from to 2008 to 2010, Rímola donated $180,000 dollars to the ML to help finance presidential and municipal campaigns.

On May 6, agents from the Judicial Investigation Police raided Rímola’s house, office and a call center located in Pavas, where bets were processed. Authorities prohibited Rímola from leaving the country pending an investigation. Through his lawyer, Rímola has denied any wrongdoing, according to the daily La Nación.

Fabio Molina, a lawmaker from the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN), this week called for the creation of special investigative commission to study the case.

“It is important to clarify who is funding whom in this country,” he said. “Transparency is the backbone of democracy.”

“We would be happy to be the first ones audited,” said Manrique Oviedo, a PAC lawmaker. “We will support the idea as long as every single party takes part of the investigation. We can’t focus on just one political group while others have historically been questioned for their funding.”

“Our members will support the initiative as long as it is democratic,” said Rita Chaves, of the Access without Exclusion Party. “We want everybody to be audited and not just a few.”

All 57 lawmakers could debate the PLN initiative as early as next week.

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