Officials del Ministerio Público seized  documents from the Movimiento Libertaio headquarters in San Pedro in May 2011.
Officials of the Ministerio Público seized documents from the Movimiento Libertaio headquarters in San Pedro in May 2011

Costa Rica’s attorney-general, Jorge Chavarría, has brought charges against the Movimiento Libertario (ML) party for defrauding US$480,000 from the Tribunal Suprema de Elecciones (TSE, the electoral authority) by charging for 190 training courses that never happened and submitting false documents.

The Código Electoral (the electoral law) provides for campaign financing equivalent to 0.19% of the GDP using public funds. Political parties have the right to request loans and to charge the TSE for amounts spent during the campaign.

After the 2010 campaign, the TSE received 12 complaints and opened 31 official investigations into anomalies in the handling and settling of campaign-financing debt. All political parties are involved, but with differing degrees of seriousness. Although the TSE has already forwarded the results of several of its investigations to the attorney-general, to date only the investigation related to the ML has been concluded.

This is the first time in the history of the country that a political party has been accused of this type of crime. There could be substantial political repercussions with less than two months until the 2014 presidential election campaign officially starts and because a reform of the electoral law, which calls for a reduction in the limit on campaign financing from 0.19% to 0.11% of GDP, is currently being debated in Congress.

Chavarría announced that the results of pending investigations into the ruling Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) and the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) will be disclosed before the campaign starts so that they may be factored into citizens’ voting decisions.

Like the ML, both of these parties are being investigated for alleged fraud against the TSE in charging for expenses not incurred and for anomalous documentation. Trials are not expected to start until the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015.

The campaign-financing scandal will be a serious issue during the election campaign and introduces substantial uncertainty into our forecast for a PLN victory.

The consequences will depend on the perceived seriousness of the crimes; on the ability of each party to convince voters that there was no bad faith, but simply a lack of experience in rendering accounts; and on whether parties can demonstrate that they are capable of fixing the problems.

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