Investigation of hacker involvement in presidential race lacks a deadline

The investigation to determine whether Johnny Araya and his team hired the services of a hacker to attack opponents during his presidential campaign in 2014 will not include an entire review of all expense reports and invoices filed before Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones.

That is according to Gerardo Abarca, general secretary of the Political Parties Funding Department of the Tribunal.

Abarca also confirmed that the investigation may last indefinitely, since there is no deadline.

Friday Bloomberg Businessweek ran the story of Colombian prison inmate Andrés Sépulveda, who claimed to have digitally

manipulated political campaigns across Latin America.

In the piece, Sépulveda said he delivered his services to Partido Liberación Nacional and its presidential candidate, Araya, who quit his quest for the presidency on March 5, 2014.

Sépulveda’s affirmations prompted the reaction of Gerardo Vargas and Patricia Mora, lawmakers from Partido Frente Amplio, who demanded the case be examined by electoral authorities.

Abarca explained that the investigation will be based on the results of an audit already carried out by the institution upon samples of expenses filed by the Partido Liberacion Nacional.

“We are not going over each paper again. Work is already done. We will only review specific cases if something unusual arises.” said Abarca.

According to records seen by an A.M. Costa Rica reporter, Araya’s campaign paid over $915,000 in services and consultancies in 2014. Documents checked in regards to computing and communications services show an individual identified as Freddy Piedra Salazar was one of the main contractors. He got $78,000. However, no mention of Sépulveda was found in the registry.

“It could be the case the hacker got paid in disguise by using another person or company. By cross referencing invoices and Ministerio de Hacienda data, we can verify if the services reported match reality.” said Abarca.

The director also explained that in case anything suspicious is found, the Tribunal will send a report to the Ministerio Público, the nation’s prosecutors, to continue the work in the judicial arena. However, no punishment from the Tribunal will necessarily be applied if the suspect already is an elected officer.

“It might be time that we, as society, start analyzing about these new cyber electoral felonies and see if the law can be reformed accordingly,” said Abarca. 

Gerardo Abarca pores over an election spending report.

Gerardo Abarca pores over an election spending report.

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