San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Environmental Tribunal burglarized

For the fifth time in recent years, the country´s Environment Tribunal, which recently cracked down on suspected scofflaw developers, was burglarized.

ThetTribunal, an administrative court of the Environment Ministry (MINAE) responsible for enforcing environmental laws, shut its doors after an illegal entry was discovered July 23 when officials showed up for work. The burglars apparently broke in the night before through the roof, rifled through desks, case files and stole the chief justice´s laptop.

The Judicial Investigation Police inspected the scene the following day after a lapse of more than 24 hours. They found fingerprints and blood, which are being analyzed to see if any suspects can be identified.

At least one court official, Judge Mario Leiva, said he suspects coastal developers of trying to intimidate judges by hiring criminals to rummage through the court. He said he has also noticed unknown individuals following him.

“Starting about four months ago, the same time we started ordering environmental sweeps and inspections of mega-projects, particularly in Guanacaste, we started receiving death threats by phone and we´ve been followed,” Leiva said. “It´s very likely we´re talking about some kind of mafia tied to developers.”

Three officials, Leiva, his assistant Adriana Bejarano and Chief Justice José Lino Chaves, were targeted during the burglary. But the thieves´ target was not money.

“Bejarano´s purse with money in it was there in full view,” the judge said. “But they didn´t touch it. They were clearly interested in documents and information.”

Tribunal officials returned to work July 24 and were still sifting through their case files the next day to see if anything else is missing.

Chaves filed police reports in May, alleging he received three death threats and that eight computers had been stolen from the Tribunal, according to Leiva.

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