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Explainer: What do Costa Rican authorities do with 4.1 tons of seized cocaine?

June 13, 2014

Congratulations, you’ve seized a record-breaking 4.1 metric tons of cocaine, more than any other seizure in Costa Rican history. Now what do you do with it?

Police arrested 11 Costa Rican fishermen in three separate operations in the country’s Southern Zone Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, with assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard and Drug Enforcement Agency. TV Channel 7 News reported that the confiscated drugs and suspects came ashore Thursday.

The seizure looks good on paper, but it ends up a white elephant (or maybe a white pony) after the fact.

Carlos Hidalgo, press spokesman for the Public Security Ministry, explained to The Tico Times that after the initial arrests a judge from the Drug Control Police needs to be present during field tests to verify the substances seized. This process involves weighing the confiscated drugs and repackaging them for transport.

The Prosecutor’s Office then requests a certain amount of the narcotics as evidence for trial.

Hidalgo said that any confiscated narcotics not required for trial are then set to be destroyed. If the operation is a joint effort with the United States, like these were, the U.S. Coast Guard could bring the drugs to the United States for destruction there.

“There is a strict chain of custody of seized drugs until they are taken to any of the several labs in the U.S., where there are incinerators to destroy the drugs. Once the process is finished, a notification of destruction is issued and included in the case file,” the U.S. Embassy in San José replied to The Tico Times in an email.

Any cocaine seized that remains in Costa Rica after the trial is taken to a Public Security Ministry facility in Heredia, north of the capital, where it is also incinerated.

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