San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Bootleggers make bank with black-market booze, cigarettes

Ticos seem to love their black-market booze.

Costa Rica has the highest presence of contraband alcohol in Latin America, according to a statement by the Finance Ministry on Wednesday, citing a Euromonitor report released in November.

Some 22 percent of the alcohol sold in Costa Rica is illegal and more than 90 percent of this hot hooch is smuggled into the Central American country, according to the report. In late November, the Finance Ministry’s Fiscal Control Police (PCF) seized 9,500 bottles of illicit liquor in Cartago, east of the capital.

Liquor isn’t the only vice for which bootleggers and buyers are trying to skirt taxes. Cigarettes, video games, and even fake pharmaceuticals are among the biggest items smuggled into Costa Rica. 

The PCF seized more than 9.9 million cigarettes on Nov. 22 that entered Costa Rica from the Colón Free Trade Zone in Panama in boxes invoiced as household items. The daily La Nación reported on Nov. 11 that during the first 10 months of 2013, PCF confiscated 12.3 million illegal cigarettes, five times as many as the 2.3 million seized in 2012.

As much as 67 percent of the Playstation 2 video game consoles in Costa Rica are equipped with a chip that allows them to read copied games, according to a May 2012 Unimer study cited by the ministry.

Contraband pharmaceuticals from Nicaragua also took off this year as authorities seized nine times as much during the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012.

While some medicine entering Costa Rica is what it advertises, Manuel Ulloa, a representative of the Central American Federation of Pharmaceutical Laboratories, said that 10 percent of the world’s pharmaceutical drugs are likely fake.

Booze and beauty appear to go together, according to the estimates from the Finance Ministry. Some 19 percent of Ticos have knowingly bought contraband perfume. PCF nabbed 5,500 perfumes and beauty creams along with 50,000 bottles of smuggled shampoo in 2012.

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