San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Corruption

Two members of Costa Rica's ruling party convicted of fraud

A Criminal Court in San José found two officials of the ruling Citizen Action Party (PAC) guilty of a fraud scheme that allowed the party to collect ₡353 million (some $632,000) from public campaign financing in 2010.

On Monday, the tribunal convicted former PAC treasurer Maynor Sterling Araya to serve six years in prison, and Manuel Antonio Bolaños Murillo, a party official, to three years in prison.

Judges also found the party liable for collecting the funds and ordered it to pay almost ₡600 million ($1 million) to the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) for the damage caused.

Judges said Sterling was the mastermind behind the fraud scheme used to collect funds using 263 fake contracts. The alleged contracts described services provided by party members who actually worked as volunteers and never charged anything for their work, the tribunal found.

More than 200 witnesses testified in the five-month trial, among them top PAC leaders including party founder, former presidential candidate and current lawmaker Ottón Solís.

The ruling also ordered the party and the two convicted members to pay an additional ₡40 million ($72,000) for trial costs.

Reactions

The party said in a news release that it respects the tribunal’s ruling. However, party officials will wait for the full ruling before evaluating options to file an appeal.

The ruling party that in 2014 saw the election of Luis Guillermo Solís as the first PAC president also said that it has enough funds to face the payment.

The PAC statement said that if the tribunal confirms its ruling, the party will proceed with its statutes, which demand that convicted party members be expelled.

Party’s founder Solís posted a statement on his Facebook profile saying he expects party leaders to take strong actions.

He called for PAC to strengthen internal controls and make the right decisions as “the party’s reaction to this trial will define its future.”

Solís also said that the party must use funds from public campaign financing to pay the fines ordered by the tribunal.

Contact L. Arias at larias@ticotimes.net

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Freddy Pacheco León

No hubo dolo, no hubo enriquecimiento de nadie, no hubo mala intención ni trampa alguna. Solamente se buscó establecer un procedimiento para cobrar el trabajo que la gente donó al partido. Pero un juzgado decide que hay estafa contra el Estado. El procedimiento debió consultarse, es cierto, antes de aplicarse. Pero uno no puede creer que condenen a personas que no recibieron ningún beneficio de un proceder partidario, pero otros donde desaparecen millones y hay grandes perjuicios en cantidades astronómicas ni siquiera son elevados a juicio. Decenas de personas testificaron que ellos donaron su trabajo en esa forma. Y de nada valió. El juicio contra el PAC es más político que otra cosa. ¡Qué peligroso el sistema judicial costarricense…! (Del muro de don Geovanny Debrús Jiménez)

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Ken Morris

What I have heard is something along the lines that Freddy posted, namely that this is a politically-motivated attack on the PAC that is rooted more in misunderstanding of the fine points of the law than it is fraud from which anyone gained (and apparently the two convicted didn’t even get anything from their so-called fraud). It therefore seems likely, or at least possible, that the ruling will be overturned on appeal.

In the meantime, I must congratulate and admire the party for its response to the ruling. It is not making excuses, even though it could, but rather assuming responsibility, cleaning house, and introspecting. The PAC clearly takes its commitment to counter corruption seriously, and I applaud the party for this.

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Fernando Gerdano

Only 2!?!??

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Rebeca Rodriguez

Cobrar un trabajo que la gente donó…no es acaso robo?

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