Costa Rican authorities seized gold bars, money and drugs on Thursday in a “massive operation” against a network dedicated to the purchase of illegally mined gold — which has serious environmental impacts — to export to the United States, judicial police reported.
The director of the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ), Walter Espinoza, said that that entity and the prosecution undertook “a massive operation in different parts of the country” to dismantle the gold export structure.
The Public Ministry (prosecutor’s office) indicated that the gold was turned into bullion to be exported to the United States, in an operation that could constitute a crime of money laundering, since the declared value in the export is lower than the market value.
According to the prosecution, in 33 raids carried out, at least 27 people suspected of mining, environmental and money laundering crimes were arrested.
In the raids, authorities seized gold bullion, cash and drugs, according to the prosecution.
Much of the mineral comes from the northern area of Crucitas, near the border with Nicaragua, where the Canadian miner Infinito Gold tried to develop a gold extraction project, but was eventually blocked by the courts due to the environmental impact it would have.
Some 70 hectares of land had been invaded by illegal miners, known as “coligalleros,” who have caused serious environmental damage and polluted rivers through their use of cyanide and mercury.
Espinoza said the investigation began in April 2019 when airport police alerted the OIJ to a “disproportionate increase” in the amount of gold that was being exported through the country’s main airport, near San José.
“From that data, we began an analysis of what was happening (…) and we were able to establish that there was a group of people dedicated in an organized manner to extract gold from our country in significant quantities,” he said.
The investigation revealed that people were acquiring the gold from coligalleros in Crucitas and others that operate in Corcovado National Park, in the southern Osa Peninsula.
From April 2019 to the present, 2,500 kilos of gold, valued at $60 million, have left the airport, mainly directed to the US cities of Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.
Espinoza said that incursions are also carried out in the area of Crucitas and Corcovado to determine the possible environmental crimes of illegal mining.
Police have conducted numerous raids in Crucitas to evict the coligalleros, many of them Nicaraguan migrants, but they return shortly after.
The Costa Rican congress banned open pit mining in 2010, shortly after the termination of Infinito Gold’s contract at Crucitas.