San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Drug Seizures Grease Justice System’s Wheels

While the country’s law enforcement agencies flounder in the alarming crime wave, there is one area they attack swimmingly: drug trafficking.

Using an aggressive model of asset seizures, influenced by a similar system practiced in Colombia, the country’s Drug Institute (ICD) administers money and properties taken from drug traffickers and money launderers and redirects them to narcotics enforcement and treatment programs.

“We have accounts in all the major currencies – colones, dollars and euros,” said Director Mauricio Boraschi. “It’s a major front in the battle against drugs.”

During the last year alone, $5.5 million was confiscated, adding to the now $12.3 million the ICD deposits, invests and distributes to various law enforcement and treatment agencies.

The program gives law enforcement an incentive because the agencies involved gain monetarily and resource-wise from their actions. While seized assets have to be returned to the owners if they are absolved of any crimes, the law allows the agency to keep the interest, dividends and other investment earnings on the original seizures. If convicted, all of the trafficker’s assets are permanently transferred into government hands.

The ICD, which was created in 2002 after the passage of a new drug law, also donates, loans and auctions off properties, cars, boats and planes confiscated from narcotics dealers.

Boraschi said half of the planes in the arsenal of the Public Security Ministry’s aerial vigilance department, basically a civilian air force, come from narco seizures.

“We loan cars daily to police,” he said. “The Public Security Ministry is using roughly 100 vehicles and the Judicial Investigation Police 40 that were seized from traffickers. There are also seized houses we use as police bases, rehab centers.”

Currently, the ICD has 678 vehicles in its possession, 220 of which are being used by different law enforcement agencies. The agency declined to provide a list to The Tico Times, citing the potential for compromising law enforcement operations and encouraging retaliation.

As established by law, 60% of ICD’s sanctioned seizures go to the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Institute (IAFA) for treatment programs, 30% to the National Police, Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and Drug Control Police, and 10% to administer and invest the funds.

IAFA is using some drug money to construct a court-ordered, 60-bed treatment facility for drug-addicted street children in the eastern San Pedro suburb of San José.

Boraschi said the equipment seized can also be auctioned off to buy bulletproof jackets, computers and surveillance equipment, depending on the particular needs of each agency.

While narco assets are invested and spent, seized drugs are destroyed in an incinerator in Cartago province, the director said. Their destruction, at a cost of roughly $1,000 per ton, is paid for with money raised in the asset seizure program.

“It’s all guaranteed that not even a trace of the drugs will remain,” Boraschi said. “And we (destroy) it as fast as possible because it’s pretty risky to keep the drugs indefinitely in the Judicial Investigation Police warehouses.”


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