Arthur Budovsky, the alleged founder of currency transfer firm Liberty Reserve, became naturalized in Costa Rica after marrying a Costa Rican woman.

Authorities are now looking into the possibility that Budovsky may have paid the woman to marry for the sole purpose of obtaining his Costa Rican citizenship.

A report by La Nacion says the woman has a food stand outside the immigration offices in La Uruca and some five years ago paid the woman ¢200.000 colones (US$400) for the marriage. (Budovsky se casó con una vendedora de empanadas que laboraba fuera de las oficinas de Migración y Extranjería hace cinco años, a quien le pagaron ¢200.000 para concretar esa unión. La Nación)

“Marriages of convenience” are not new and not uncommon in Costa Rica.  A large number of foreigners marry Costa Ricans to obtain residency and citizenship, a practice that is frowned upon by authorities and the subject of investigation for many years.

Following the marriage, Budovsky renounced his U.S. citizenship after deciding to set up in Costa Rica. He and another man, identified as Azzeddine el Amine, were arrested Friday at a Madrid airport while trying to return to Costa Rica. They were ordered jailed while they await a hearing on extradition to the U.S.

U.S. federal prosecutors charged seven people Tuesday, including Budvosky and el Amine, with running what amounted to an online, underworld bank that handled US$6 billion for drug dealers, child pornographers, identity thieves and other criminals around the globe in what they called perhaps the biggest money laundering scheme in U.S. history.

U.S. authorities say Liberty Reserve, a currency transfer and payment processing company based in Costa Rica, allowed customers to move money anonymously from one account to another via the Internet with almost no questions asked.

They said the enterprise was staggering in scope: Over roughly seven years, Liberty Reserve processed 55 million illicit transactions worldwide for 1 million users, including 200,000 in the United States. The network charged a 1 percent fee on transactions through “exchangers” — middlemen who converted actual currency into virtual funds and then back into cash.

Costa Rica’s director of judicial investigations unit, the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), Francisco Segura, acknowledged that Costa Rica is an attractive country for U.S. criminals because they can obtain Costa Rican citizenship easily and inexpensively.

Costa Rican citizens are protected from being extradited to the United States.

Public Security Minister and former director of the immigration service, Mario Zamora, said after a Wednesday meeting with U.S. Ambassador Anne Andrew that the two countries will start working on consolidating an extradition treaty for suspects in organized crime cases.

Supreme Court president Zarella Villanueva, however, said such a treaty would take a long time to materialize because it would require constitutional changes that have to be approved by the Legislature.

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