San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Four accused of enslaving Asians on Costa Rican fishing boats charged and released

The three men and one woman arrested Saturday in connection with allegedly using 36 Asians as slave labor at a Costa Rican fishing company were released without bail or other preventive measures Sunday night by the Puntarenas Penal Court.The Costa Rican daily La Nación reported

The 36 persons alleged to have been enslaved, consisting of 15 Vietnamese, 13 Indonesians, five Filipinos, two Taiwanese and a Chinese, were over-worked and lived in inhuman conditions, receiving no pay, little food, whippings, and sleeping in crowded conditions, according to Costa Rican police sources. Investigations by the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) also determined that the men had worked for two years on the ships with no payment, although their employers, who had confiscated the workers´ passports, claimed to have sent $250 per month to each of their families.

Saturday night saw the culmination of a four-month investigation by the OIJ with the arrests of two employees of last names Espinoza and Wang, and a brother and sister by the last name of Tseng who are respectively the president and the treasurer of Imperio Pesquero del Pacífico S.A., a company registered by the Foreign Trade Promotion Office (PROCOMER), reported La Nación. The three Taiwanese and one Costa Rican were charged with human trafficking, which in Costa Rica carries a sentence of between eight and 16 years in prison.

According to Osvaldo Henderson, assistant public prosecutor for organized crime, whose unit will appeal the Puntarenas´ court decision, this is the first time since the creation of his unit last year that actions have been taken against a group linked to human trafficking, according to La Nación.

Jorge Rojas, director of the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ), confirmed in his report that “(The workers) were in completely unsanitary, inhumane, overcrowded conditions.” The rescued crew members will remain in custody of the Immigration Department until they are either returned to their countries in a few weeks or apply for refugee status.

The United Nations estimates that, worldwide, human trafficking brings $9.5 billion in profits annually. According to the U.S. State Department´s report on human trafficking released in June 2009, “…to an increasing extent, Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked into forced labor, particularly in agriculture, construction, restaurant work, the fishing industry, and as domestic servants.”

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