Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Costa Rica couple says they didn't know safe contained FARC money

This is the safe where the FARC stored almost half a million dollars. (Photo by Jorge Castillo / La Nacion)SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) - A couple who agreed to store a safe in their home for a Colombian man in the late 1990s said Tuesday it belonged to senior Colombian rebel leader, and that they also briefly hosted late guerrilla commander Raul Reyes in their home.

Retired university professor Francisco Gutierrez and his wife Cruz Prado told a news conference that at the time, they did not know the identity of either of the men.

They said both Reyes and rebel leader Rodrigo Granda used false names and posed as negotiators for peace in the conflict between Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The couple also insisted they had no idea the safe contained $480,000 until authorities seized the money from their home on Friday.

Gutierrez, a naturalized Costa Rican from Spain, and Prado, who is Costa Rican, spoke with reporters at their home a day after lawmakers demanded that the government provide more information on allegations that Colombian guerrillas have ties to local politicians and have stashed money in the Central American country.

The Colombian government discovered the existence of the $480,000 and its whereabouts from files contained in three computers the military seized during a raid on a FARC camp just inside Ecuadorean territory on March 1. FARC leader Reyes was killed during the raid.

Gutierrez and Prado said they were members of the political left — which during the late 1990s acted as an intermediary in peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC — when they met the rebels. Reyes identified himself as "Dario," and Granda called himself "Ricardo."

In either 1997 or 1998, the couple said they agreed to host Reyes in their home along with a woman who went by the name of Olga, whose real identity is not known.

"They stayed with us several days," Prado said. "Later, he (Reyes) asked us if a third person could leave something at our house and we said yes."

Granda showed up sometime later with an electronic safe that he asked the couple to store in their house.

Prado said they thought the safe contained documents until authorities seized it on Friday from their home, in the city of Heredia, north of the capital.

When the couple discovered the men's real identity in 2004, "we were very scared to see who we had been dealing with, but this (box) wasn't ours and we couldn't get rid of it, so we didn't tell anyone," she said.

Attorney General Francisco Dall'Anese on Monday said no charges were pending against Gutierrez and that police had searched his home at Colombia's request.

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