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Drugs Hidden in Exports to Europe

Authorities said two international drug trafficking operations that used Costa Rica as a bridge to send cocaine to the Netherlands were shut down this week in two separate operations that involved Costa Rican and international police.

While the two operations are apparently not connected – neither on the authorities’end nor the traffickers’ end – both shipped cocaine from the port in Limón, on the Caribbean coast, disguised as legitimate exports to the Netherlands.

According to a Public Security Ministry spokesman, it is not surprising that both operations were shipping to the Netherlands because the Dutch capital of Amsterdam is “one of the two drug capitals of Europe,” along with Madrid, Spain.

The first bust, carried out by the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) Saturday, broke up an alleged ring of traffickers suspected of hiding cocaine in cans of heart of palm and boxes of pineapple destined for the Netherlands, OIJ Director Jorge Rojas said.

Four Colombians and an Italian were arrested in a series of raids in Heredia, north of San José. Authorities said they also seized 22 kilograms of cocaine packed into cans from inside a truck headed to the Caribbean port of Limón to be shipped to the Netherlands.

Additionally, equipment likely used to squeeze the cocaine into ovules in the shape of heart of palm was seized from a packaging plant in Tres Ríos, east of San José.

Those arrested were identified as three Colombian men, ages 43, 32 and 35; one Colombian woman, 43, and one Italian man, 40. Their names have not been confirmed, Rojas said.

The group is suspected of creating a fictitious fruit exporting company called Didusa, complete with a Web site to disguise the alleged drug-trafficking operation, Rojas said. Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese said the raids are part of an initiative to crack down on foreigners running organized crime in Costa Rica.

“Stricter immigration controls are needed,” Dall’Anese said. “It’s worrisome that any foreigner can come here and do whatever he or she wants.”

The second bust – which was the fruit of united efforts by the Public Security Ministry, International Police (INTERPOL) and Dutch authorities – involved a drug trafficking network that shipped cocaine by sea from Colombia to Panama, and then moved it by land to Costa Rica before shipping it across the Atlantic Ocean to the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, in potted ornamental plants.

Investigations into the network began after INTERPOL in Colombia tipped off its Costa Rican counterpart in November 2005, and resulted in this week’s arrests of five suspects in Costa Rica and four in the Netherlands in simultaneous operations Monday.

Officials were awaiting additional arrests in Colombia, however an INTERPOL source told The Tico Times that because of delays on the Colombian end, it is unlikely more suspects will be detained. According to the source – who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal from drug traffickers – the request for the arrest of the Colombian suspects was sent well before the operations carried out Monday, but for reasons unknown has yet to be acted upon.

The Costa Rican part of the drug-trafficking network was allegedly headed by a suspect identified by the last names of Castro Cerdas and who lived in Guácimo, on the Caribbean slope. Castro apparently used two Costa Rican businesses, Maravillas Tropicales del Caribe S.A. and Agrícola Palma Real S.A., as fronts for shipping the Colombian cocaine from the Caribbean port of Limón to Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

According to the Public Security Ministry, a Costa Rican with the last names Salazar Ulate and a Colombian with the last names Urriago García were in charge of hiding the cocaine in plants’ soil before they were shipped off in refrigerated containers to the Netherlands.

Castro, Salazar, Urriago and two others were arrested in simultaneous raids by Drug Control Police in San Jose, Heredia and Limón.

Meanwhile, police in the Netherlands arrested the alleged buyer of the cocaine in the city of Amsterdam, as well as three accomplices, and seized 326 kilos of cocaine, according to a Public Security statement.

While much of the cocaine was shipped to Europe, some was offloaded and distributed in Costa Rica as it passed through, which led authorities to call the bust “an important strike against internal drug trafficking” in Costa Rica.

The five suspects were turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office on charges of international drug trafficking, for which they could face up to 20 years in prison.




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