Three Colombians and seven Costa Ricans were arrested Thursday on suspicion of being linked to an international drug cartel. Among those arrested was Alexander Leudo Nieves, a Colombian citizen who was being pursued by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the International Police (Interpol).
According to Public Security Minister Mario Zamora, Costa Rican police forces conducted 15 raids throughout the country Thursday to apprehend suspects thought to be linked to the Mexican Zetas drug cartel. The raids were carried out in Puntarenas on the central Pacific coast, Santo Domingo de Heredia, north of the capital, and the San José neighborhoods of Zapote, La Uruca and Rohrmoser. Zamora said several hundred kilos of cocaine were recovered, as well as over $286,000 in the home of a Colombian in Rohrmoser.
During a press conference Thursday, Zamora said the group has been under investigation since October, and that it is thought the suspects form part of a cartel with members dispersed throughout Central America. He said that in Costa Rica cartel members are using the purchase and sale of furniture and real estate to mask drug movements and money laundering. The cartel’s drug route is presumed to run from Colombia north through Central America and into Mexico with a final destination of the U.S.
“We were able to determine that one of the suspects was importing and exporting very, very large quantities of expensive goods and furniture,” Zamora said. “The organization wasn’t using Costa Rica only as a destination for the drug shipments, but also as an intermediary location for reshipment to other destinations.”
Zamora said Leudo is linked to the leader of a Colombian drug cartel in Buenaventura, Colombia.
According to the Public Security Ministry, an estimated 600 to 900 tons of drugs pass through Costa Rica every year. Zamora said he considers the group of traffickers detained Thursday to be responsible for “a significant part of that transport,” as well as the transportation of laundered money.
In the past month, the ministry has confiscated more than 1.5 tons of cocaine.