SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – The man who allegedly founded currency transfer firm Liberty Reserve may have paid a Costa Rican woman to marry him so he could get citizenship in this country, which lacks an extradition treaty with the United States, authorities said Wednesday.
Deputy director of judicial investigations Gustavo Vega said officials were still investigating the 2010 marriage between millionaire Arthur Budovsky and a woman who local media identified only by her last names of Valerio Vargas.
The Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion said the woman has a food stand outside the government's immigration offices in the capital of San Jose.
The woman was quoted by the paper as saying Budovsky paid her $800 to marry him and promised they would get a divorce after two years. She said they are still married.
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 $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, Francisco Segura, acknowledged that Costa Rica is an attractive country for U.S. criminals because they can obtain Costa Rican citizenship easily and inexpensively and are protected from being extradited to the United States.
Public Security Minister 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 Congress.