LatinNews Daily - 23 March 2022

COSTA RICA: TSE opens investigation into PLN ahead of run-off

On 22 March the local media reported that Costa Rica’s supreme electoral court (TSE) had opened an investigation into the main opposition Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) of presidential run-off candidate, former president José María Figueres (1994-1998).

Analysis:

The investigation relates to a visit that Figueres made to the Dominican Republic (DR), which was reportedly paid for by Alberto Esquivel Volio, a businessman and Costa Rica’s former agriculture minister (1986-1987) between 6-8 March, and which was not initially declared as part of his agenda. The questions over this visit come with less than two weeks to go until the 3 April run-off where Figueres is due to face Rodrigo Chaves of the opposition Partido Progreso Social Democrático (PPSD), who has also faced campaign finance questions. The doubts hanging over Figueres’ trip could prove damaging to his campaign particularly given corruption remains a major voter concern. It comes as the latest poll by national pollster Centro de Investigación y Estudios Políticos (Ciep) of the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) shows Figueres having made gains and the margin between him and Chaves (who was previously the frontrunner ahead of the run-off) within a technical tie.

  • Local media including leading daily Nación and VozyVoto.org, an initiative of local news website AmeliaRueda, have both said that Ronald Chacón, who heads up the TSE unit for political party finance, confirmed the launch of the investigation to them.
  • While Figueres did not initially declare his visit to the DR, a statement by his press office dated 7 March said that he participated in a meeting with the DR’s minister for industry, trade, and SMEs (small and medium-size firms) Víctor Bisonó, CEO of tourism company Grupo Puntacana, Frank Elías Rainieri, and general manager of the DR’s fiduciary reserves, Andrés van der Horst.
  • According to the statement, issues discussed included “support for micro and medium-size businesses” as well as the “international situation” – specifically the “direct impact on petrol prices”. As regards the meeting with Van der Horst, who Figueres said had invited him to the DR, the press release said that the officials discussed the DR’s experience with regard to its fiduciary system and the financing of national development projects.
  • According to the latest Ciep poll, released yesterday (22 March), Chaves is on 43.3% of voting intentions, down from 46.5% in February while Figueres is on 38.1%, up from 35.9% - within the 3.1% margin of error. According to the same poll, 16.5% of the 1,015 respondents said they were undecided, up from 15.3% in February.
  • Figueres previously faced allegations of receiving bribes from the French telecoms firm Alcatel between 2000 and 2003. However, an investigation into Figueres was closed in 2011 due to insufficient evidence.

Looking Ahead: Chaves, who has faced controversy over a sexual harassment scandal, is likely to exploit the doubts surrounding Figueres’ trip. However, he remains on the defensive over claims that a trust, Costa Rica Próspera, administered by ATA Trust Company S. A., had allegedly served as a parallel structure to finance his campaign which would be in violation of electoral law. In a press conference on 21 March, Chaves, who is already facing a TSE investigation launched in December 2021 into the sources of PSD finance, insisted that the allegations were “absurd” while ATA Trust Company S.A.’s president, André Tinoco, reiterated that the trust was dissolved before Chaves declared his candidacy. The TSE has also ordered the trust to make its accounts public.

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