San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Alleged drug traffickers likely linked to Mexico's Sinaloa cartel

Officials from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) confirmed this week that three Mexican nationals arrested in late February are accused of forming an international drug-trafficking organization in Costa Rica. They were arrested in the eastern province of Cartago. Police seized 319 kilograms of cocaine worth up to $12.7 million in the United States.

An official from the OIJ narcotics division, who requested anonymity, said that police began investigating a group of Mexican nationals who they believed were creating an organization to send cocaine to Mexico in May 2010. He said two of the men, whose last names are Flandes, 54, from Mexico City, and García, 39, from Michoacán, were in charge of moving drug shipments, while a third suspect, whose last name is Váldez, 44, from Valle Hermoso, was in charge of overseeing the operation. Police believe Váldez has ties to the infamous Sinaloa cartel in northwestern Mexico.

“There’s a tie [to the Sinaloa cartel] that’s not confirmed,” the official said. “We heard that this person, Valdez, is a person with an important position within the Sinaloa cartel. But we still have to confirm that.”

The men entered Costa Rica in 2007 and had been leaving and re-entering the country over the past several years. Initially, the organization began with six or seven people, but divided because of internal problems.

“At first, they wanted to set up an export business of perishable products. [But] they had various problems in the group. There was conflict between them and because of that, the investigation grew longer,” the official said.

Police arrested the three men as they prepared to send a large cocaine shipment north. Investigators learned of the shipment through wiretaps and other surveillance.

“Last week, they left the country and then entered again. When they entered, they began making some movements and we detected that they were preparing to send a shipment of cocaine to Mexico,” the official said.

The 319 kilograms of cocaine, tightly sealed in packaging tape, stacked in crates lined with black plastic bags and ready to be shipped, were found in a bodega near the house that Flandes and Garcia rented in a residential neighborhood of Cartago.

“Close to the house where they lived, they rented a bodega,” the OIJ official said. “They paid $1,500 a month to rent the bodega. That’s where they had [all the cocaine].”

A conviction of international drug trafficking in Costa Rica carries a sentence of eight to 20 years in prison. The official said he is optimistic that the three men will be convicted.

“We have the entire investigation and all of the evidence so that they’ll go to trial and be found guilty. For us, it’s a case with positive results,” he said.

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