The long-awaited and highly touted bill against organized crime became law on Thursday.
After more than a year of being thrown back and forth between the Legislative Assembly and legal committees, the bill, which was loaded onto the discussion docket last week, shot through the debate process this week.
The bill passed first debate on Tuesday morning with ease – 44 votes in favor and one vote against – and passed the second debate on Thursday afternoon just as swiftly – 48 votes to one.
“We’re very pleased,” said Libertarian Movement legislator Luis Barrantes, who has been pushing for the bill since it entered the assembly. “(We) agreed on a very important piece of legislation today and the country is taking the right steps to stop organized crime.”
Minister of the Presidency Rodrigo Arias shared Barrantes’ enthusiasm.
“The step that we have taken is enormous for protection of citizen safety,” Arias said in a press release. “Criminals and mafias in Costa Rica know that they don’t have capacity or space in Costa Rica.”
What Does it Say?
The bill defines organized crime as “a structured group of two or more persons who exist in true time and who act in agreement with the purpose of committing one or more crimes.”
In order to guard against such crimes, the bill proposes four main initiatives: develop an information-sharing platform for police, assign new functions to the office of attention to crime victims in the Prosecuter’s Office, put into operation a judicial communications center, and form a permanent commission to address crisis situations.
Among the more controversial details are authorization of phone taps and accelerated investigations into suspicious bank accounts.
The bill also extends preventative prison sentences to 24 months in order to give the Prosecutor’s Office time to search phone records.
The so-called crisis commission would be an integrated group of agencies consisting of representatives from the Office of the Chief Prosecutor and the Presidency, Public Security and Justice Ministries.
The commission would direct the police force in times of crises such as hostage situations, bomb threats and confiscation of dangerous materials.
Ricardo González, press official for the Judicial Investigation Police, said that the various commissions and programs in the bill are “essential” in fighting organized crime.
“A major problem in combating largescale crimes always has been communications,” he said. “These new programs will centralize the information and give everyone access to it.”
The information-sharing platform will give the Prosecutor’s Office instant access to information in police records, something it didn’t have before.
The JudicialCommunicationsCenter would be in the hands of the judicial branch and would operate 24 hours a day.
González said that he doesn’t consider the law a panacea for organized crime problems but that it is a step in the right direction.
“It’s not going to eliminate organized crime, but it’s a good instrument to start with,” he said. “Now that it’s been passed, the government needs to apply it.”
Much remains to be done to fund the comissions included in the law, but Barrantes said that, with the approval of the bill, the country is moving in the right direction.
“We are still missing a lot of things” Barrantes said. “We are missing money, we are missing police, but at least it’s an advance and now we can start looking ahead.”
The Finance Ministry has one year to find the funds to implement the law.