The dismantling of a Costa Rican drug gang that worked with agents in an elite investigative unit to steal cocaine shipments is another warning sign of the reach of drug corruption in the Central American country.
At least two agents with Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department (Organismo de Investigación Judicial) have been charged with working on behalf of accused trafficker Darwin González Hernández, alias “Pancho Villa,” CRHoy reported. The agents accessed police operating systems to track cocaine shipments that were later intercepted and stolen, according to Walter Espinoza, OIJ’s director.
The agents’ participation in the drug ring was discovered after a ton of cocaine was seized in October of last year. The cocaine was found in a semi-truck stopped by authorities in Garabito, a town in Puntarenas province. Investigators later determined that the cocaine had been stolen from another group, and that the agents had directed the truck’s route to a property on the Pacific coast.
SEE ALSO: The Tumbadores: Cocaine Theft and the CentAm Police
According to Espinoza, the ring trafficked about one ton of cocaine every two months, operating in the coastal areas of Puerto Jimenez, Golfito and Zancudo beach near the Panama border. The drugs were then moved to the central Pacific region, where they were sold on the domestic market or smuggled onward to the United States, La Nación reported.
Palm oil entrepreneur and alleged ringleader González Hernández was arrested on April 6 at his home. Several other people suspected of belonging to the group were also arrested, including an agent identified only by the surname Campos. The second agent, with the surnames Concepción Quiel, later surrendered himself to authorities, La Nación reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
This cocaine ring in Costa Rica is concerning for two reasons: Cocaine robberies are not a common criminal practice in the country, and it's more evidence that corruption is facilitating the drug trade there.
It also shows that a large amount of drugs are moving through the country, as the theft of cocaine shipments has mostly been seen to date in Central American countries that serve as major transit hubs, such as Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Such robberies are typically executed by drug gangs -- referred to as “tumbadores” -- that are paid to steal cocaine shipments as way to recover unpaid debts or to hurt competitors. Though such thefts are dangerous to the perpetrators, there is little chance they will get reported.
This lines up with the country’s rising homicide rates, which some experts have attributed, in part, to drug gang conflicts sparked by cocaine robberies, particularly in the Puntarenas region.
Like in the Costa Rica ring, tumbadores also often work closely with or are even led by corrupt authorities.
The officers seize shipments, hand them over, and then take a share of the profits. The officers involved are often in elite positions that would allow them to receive intelligence reports on cocaine shipments.
Costa Rican agents’ involvement in the cocaine ring points to the country's recent struggles with traffickers infiltrating the justice system.
In December of last year, a judge was among 16 people arrested on charges of being part of a criminal organization dedicated to drug trafficking and money laundering. A police officer was also arrested in that case.
Earlier, in November, a judge and judicial assistant were accused of receiving bribes to help traffickers avoid imprisonment. Both judges are alleged to have handed over information on local anti-narcotics operations to traffickers.