Officials with the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) have arrested 15 people –including two police officers – suspected of belonging to a kidnapping ring headed by one of the convicts who escaped from La Reforma prison last month.
Monday, OIJ agents arrested eight alleged members of the ring in operations in the southern San José suburb of Desamparados, the northern San José district of Tibás and in the Caribbean-slope town of Siquirres. All have been given one year of preventive detention as they are investigated on charges of kidnapping for extortion. Yesterday, the OIJ arrested two more suspects in San José.
OIJ Director Jorge Rojas said the group was “very violent,” chose their victims by simply looking for rich people and would have continued with the kidnappings had they not been caught.
The OIJ already had five alleged members of the organization in custody, including the two police officers who worked in Desamparados. Rojas explained at a press conference Monday that the group also had assistance from an employee of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) who helped the kidnappers with telephone communications. The ICE official, like the police officers, had been arrested months earlier, he said.
OIJ investigations, which began more than a year ago, indicate the group was also involved with the recent breakout at Costa Rica’s largest prison, La Reforma, possibly providing transportation and other assistance to the eight convicts who escaped Oct. 9. One prison guard was killed during the pre-dawn escape (TT, Oct. 13).
According to the OIJ, Jovel Guillermo Araya, one of the escapees, was the leader of the kidnapping ring, which was made up mostly of Araya’s relatives, including a son and daughter. Araya was shot and recaptured Oct. 24 when police raided a residential home in Guácimo, on the Caribbean slope, looking for the fugitives (TT, Oct. 27). Two other escapees were apprehended in the operation and one was killed. Only one of the eight convicts remains at large.
In that same Guácimo raid, police arrested a man and woman who were in the house with the fugitives. At the time, officials said the couple was linked to a kidnapping organization. Rojas said Monday the police released the two shortly after because of a lack of evidence, but they were recaptured in the raids this week and will now be charged as part of this organization.
Rojas said the ring pulled off three kidnappings last year, holding seven people for a total of ¢635 million (approximately $1.2 million) in ransom, which was paid in cash, goods and property.
The first, which allegedly involved the two Desamparados police officers, occurred Aug. 24, 2005, in southern San José, when the police officers pulled over a Costa Rican businessman and his driver, and then kidnappers forced them into a semi-truck. The man’s wife was kidnapped later. All three were released one week later after the kidnappers were paid ¢65 million ($126,000) of the ¢200 million ($390,000) they were requesting.
According to the OIJ, the group pulled off a second kidnapping in the Central Valley mountain town of Coronado Nov. 4, 2005, holding a Colombian and a Venezuelan businessman for seven days for a ransom of ¢500 million ($974,000). The two victims were moved between garages in Patarrá, southwest of San José in Desamparados, and Tibás, a northern district of San José, and an apartment in San Juan de Dios, in Desamparados.
Before the two South American businessmen were released, the group struck a third time, this time grabbing a businessman from San Francisco de Dos Ríos, in southwest San José. The victim was held for 24 hours before the kidnappers were paid the ¢70 million ($136,000) they were asking in ransom. According to OIJ spokesman Francisco Ruíz, the victim paid the ransom by transferring ownership of eight semi-trucks and trailers, as well as property, to intermediaries who worked for the organization. These transfers helped officials identify members of the organization, he added.
Rojas said the transfer of property and vehicles represents a new method of payment in kidnapping cases in Costa Rica.
In all the cases, between three and seven members of the gang were involved in the kidnapping and the transportation of the victims and four to six were involved in watching over them.
The OIJ is still seeking one member of the organization.
In related news, officials from CasaPresidencial’s Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS) killed the suspected leader of another band of kidnappers in a shootout Friday in Birrí de Heredía, north of San José. The man, a Jamaican identified by the daily La Nación as Joans McGordan Kickpatrick, opened fire on officials from an informal taxi when authorities tried to intercept him, using his female companion as a shield. The woman and a DIS agent were also injured. OIJ officials arrested two other Jamaicans identified by the last names of Smith and Gordon minutes before the shootout.
In late September, police arrested four suspects who allegedly captured a Costa Rican businessman, held him against his will and told him that his accountant had hired them to kill him, the daily La Nación reported.
The group offered to “protect” the businessman in exchange for $1 million, later reduced to $650,000, which the victim requested in checks from his accountant.
The accountant grew suspicious and notified police, who arrested the four a week later after finding the businessman’s clothing and strands of hair in the suspects’ house in Tibás, north of San José.
Rojas acknowledged that kidnappings in Costa Rica have risen to nine so far this year, two more than in 2005. However, he said the increase is “very small.”