Nestled in a region known for drug trafficking and money laundering, Costa Rica has been on the lookout for new tools to fight organized crime. On Tuesday, President Laura Chinchilla and her Cabinet announced a bill that would empower law enforcement to seize assets purchased with illicit funds.
Public Security Vice Minister Celso Gamboa said that asset forfeiture was the best way to “hit criminals where it hurts.” Gamboa said he believed the new powers would be key to dealing a blow to the sources of capital that fortify criminal networks.
“The problem with organized crime, beyond drugs and killings, is economic,” Gamboa said.
Under the proposed powers, the financial crimes unit would identify property they allege was purchased with ill-gotten money and the accused would have an opportunity to defend the purchase of their property before a judge in compliance with due process.
The director of the Costa Rican Drug Institute, Carlos Alvarado, noted that Article 45 of the Costa Rican Constitution protects the right to private property but added that any goods obtained through ill-gotten means were beyond the reach of constitutional protections.
The new powers would only extend to asset forfeiture and would not add to Costa Rica’s overcrowded prison system.
Alvarado said that the law was retroactive, affecting any ill-gotten property regardless of when it was purchased. He added that if a drug trafficker were killed, his illicit property would pass to the government, not the next of kin.
The bill now heads to the Legislative Assembly for consideration.
According to Casa Presidencial, asset forfeiture laws already exist in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.