San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Evangelical lawmaker faces criminal investigation for campaign finances

The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) on Friday asked the Prosecutor’s Office to open a criminal investigation of Costa Rican Renovation Party congressman Justo Orozco. The tribunal is accusing the 61-year-old lawmaker of fraud and other charges stemming from the financing of his 2010 political campaign. 

According to the daily La Nación, Orozco submitted a request to the TSE for $1.5 million in reimbursements for political campaign expenses. The TSE determined that Orozco was eligible for only $800,000 based on the number of votes his party received. In Costa Rica, political parties are partially reimbursed for money spent on political campaigns. The amount the government pays each party depends on the number of votes candidates receive.

The TSE found that Orozco inflated the amount the government owed the party on at least 19 “political bonds” his party traded for various electoral services, including transportation and consultation, La Nación reporterd. Orozco’s party promised holders of the bonds they could redeem them for cash after the elections concluded. In some cases, signatures on the bonds appeared to be forged.

The TSE reimbursed the party $62,000, a fraction of the total amount Orozco’s party claimed.

In comments to La Nación, Orozco, a former attorney, denied any wrongdoing because “most of the money was not reimbursed to us.” He also attributed the apparent forgery of donor signatures and attempts to defraud the government to atheists. “We wanted to open the party up a little [to more people], so we allowed in some non-believers [in God], and that could be why this is happening,” he told La Nación.

Although as a lawmaker Orozco enjoys immunity from prosecution, a formal investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office could trigger congressional proceedings to remove his immunity.

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