Costa Rica seeks arrest, extradition from US of Sea Shepherd’s Paul Watson

After 15 months at sea to avoid Interpol red alerts issued for his arrest by Japan and Costa Rica, the embattled conservationist Paul Watson finally went ashore late last month to visit family and testify in a U.S. case brought against him by Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research.

Watson, the 62-year-old founder of Sea Shepherd, arrived in Los Angeles, California, where he was welcomed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (yes, that Robert F. Kennedy) and other supporters. He was not arrested as he passed through U.S. customs.

“I have returned to the United States. The Interpol Red Notice from Costa Rica has been dropped,” Watson wrote on his Facebook page at the time.

It seemed like the red notice on behalf of Costa Rica had been dropped, as Watson’s attorneys had indicated. A search of Interpol’s website turned up no notice of a red alert on behalf of Costa Rica, although a red alert issued by Japan was still active.

Watson was on U.S. soil for only a week when Costa Rican judicial officials formally requested the U.S. extradite him back to Costa Rica to face charges of allegedly endangering a ship’s crew at high seas in a 2002 incident off the coast of Guatemala.

On Nov. 5, Costa Rica’s First Circuit Penal Court of San José requested the U.S. arrest Watson and extradite him to Costa Rica.

“Finding the accused [Watson] in the United States, we request his immediate capture, and once that has been executed the procedure for his extradition will begin,” the request from First Circuit Judge Jorge Cordero stated.

A spokeswoman for Costa Rica’s judicial branch confirmed on Wednesday the request had been sent via diplomatic channels to the U.S. government. The U.S. has not yet formally responded to the request, and Watson has not been arrested.

Watson’s Costa Rican attorney, Federico Morales, told The Tico Times that Costa Rica had “reactivated” an international arrest request and then communicated that decision to the U.S. Embassy.

Morales said he would challenge the request, as he believes the statute of limitations on the charges against Watson “expired in 2004 or 2005.”

Costa Rica claims Watson, a Canadian citizen, violated Article 251 of the country’s Penal Code, which sanctions the endangerment of a ship and its crew. If found guilty, he could face up to 15 years in prison. Watson was arrested in May 2012 in Frankfurt, Germany, where he spent a month in jail. He was released to house arrest, but fled Germany by land and spent the next 15 months at sea.

Watson and his crew strongly deny Costa Rica’s charges, and point to the documentary film “Sharkwater,” which portrays the incident on April 21, 2002, involving the Costa Rican fishing vessel Varadero I. Watson and Sea Shepherd accused the Varadero I’s crew of illegal shark-finning. The fishermen said the Sea Shepherds tried to kill them by ramming their boat and blasting them with water canons.

“Watson, without authorization or legitimacy proceeded to take the law into his own hands by intimidating, threatening and attacking the Varadero I,” Cordero wrote.

During the incident, a finger on the left hand of Costa Rican fisherman Antonio Mena was injured, Cordero noted.

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