Costa Rica seizes FARC cash as Interpol probes

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica Mon Mar 17, 2008 7:17pm EDT

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - Costa Rican police have seized $480,000 in cash thought to be linked to Colombia's FARC rebels, as Interpol probes the guerrilla group's ties to other countries, police said on Monday.

The money was found in a raid on a house near the capital San Jose on Friday after a tip-off from Colombia based on information in a computer found at a FARC camp attacked by Colombian troops this month, a San Jose police spokeswoman said.

"Government investigators, along with the intelligence services, are looking into links with the FARC," spokeswoman Margarita Morales told Reuters.

Separately, Colombia's police commander Gen. Oscar Naranjo said Colombia, which has driven the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, into remote areas under President Alvaro Uribe, was working with Interpol to uncover FARC ties in other nations.

"The investigations are basically aimed at figuring out if there are more caches of FARC money abroad, and why they were storing such big quantities of dollars," Naranjo told reporters in Bogota.

No arrests were made in the raid on the house in the Costa Rican town of Heredia, just outside San Jose, where police found a safe stuffed with bank notes whose brittle state suggested they had been there for several years.

Colombia set off a regional crisis when it attacked a FARC camp across the border in Ecuador this month, killing a rebel commander. Ecuador and ally Venezuela cut diplomatic ties and mobilized troops before Colombia defused the spat by apologizing.

The incident has triggered investigations into the FARC's reach outside Colombia that could embarrass Latin American countries that might be unwitting hosts to FARC sympathizers.

Costa Rican Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal said in a speech on Saturday he believed at least 2,000 of the roughly 12,000 Colombians who have refugee status in Costa Rica had links to organized crime, drug trafficking or the FARC.

"A lot will come out of what the computer says," he said, noting that former FARC general Hector Martinez Quinto lived for several years in Costa Rica. Authorities suspect he ran drug and arms smuggling operations, before he was extradited to Colombia in 2006 and jailed.

Colombia says documents seized in the raid on the FARC camp showed the rebels were receiving help from the governments of Venezuela and Ecuador.

Colombia has also asked Mexico to investigate ties between its citizens and the FARC after several Mexicans were found among the dead in the strike on the camp. Mexico has opened its own probe and called the situation worrisome.

Naranjo said the money found in Costa Rica was linked to a prominent Costa Rican leftist called Eleuterio Perez.

(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Writing by Jason Lange; Editing by Catherine Bremer)

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