The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested twelve police officers and two former officers from the Puntarenas National Police force on corruption charges early Wednesday morning. After months of investigation, the OIJ raided the officers’ homes and arrested 17 members of a suspected criminal gang who were behind a recent crime wave in the port city of Puntarenas, in the central Pacific.
“Puntarenas has been suffering a lot of crimes, assaults, and personal, business and home robberies,” said Jorge Rojas, director of the OIJ, on Wednesday morning. “When the OIJ began investigations into these crimes [earlier] this year, we realized that many involved the participation of the National Police of Puntarenas.”
Rojas said that the investigation revealed that police officers allegedly committed robberies while in uniform and during work hours. Police forces were said to mimic raids in order to enter and rob homes in various Puntarenas neighborhoods.
“This group had become the most active crime group in Puntarenas in recent months,” Rojas said. “Their activities also included buying and selling drugs and a series of crimes that are incredible and obviously unacceptable from a police force.”
The investigation also found that the group intimidated and harassed fellow police officers. Officers who threatened to alert the OIJ of the illegal activities reportedly received death threats and were shot at while in their homes at night. Rojas said he considered the group to an organized criminal network.
“It is a crime group that is very complicated and very violent, and that had plans to commit further crimes in the upcoming days,” he said.
Rojas said the raids were carried out Wednesday morning because the OIJ had intercepted information that members of the group had a robbery planned for later in the day.
During the morning raid of 16 homes, police confiscated five guns, three bulletproof vests and three ski masks. Of the 17 arrested, 12 were active officers, including an administrator and supervisor, two were former officers and three others had previous criminal records.
Also Wednesday, 10 prison guards were arrested in association with the death of prisoner Johel Araya, who was found dead in his cell at the La Reforma prison in Alajuela on May 22 (TT, May 22). Araya was considered to be the leader of a prison break on May 11 that resulted in the death of a prison guard and two fellow inmates. His body was found fully clothed and severely bruised in his cell.
“According to our investigation, the custodians of the prison repeatedly hit Araya in his cell,” Rojas said. “The injuries sustained in the beatings, which included strikes to his head, resulted in his death.”
Rojas said 11 guards are believed to have been involved in Araya’s death.