Prosecutors in the province of Limón are furious over a judge’s recent decision to release on bail a known drug trafficker arrested with 300 kilograms of cocaine near the Limón airport, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.
Telenoticias Channel 7 first reported the story last Friday.
Family members of a suspect with the last names López Vega showed up in court last Wednesday night with ₡25 million ($46,000) in bail money already in hand as Judge Michael Cano Centeno denied a prosecutor’s motion to maintain López Vega in preventive custody pending trial. The suspect had been held in preventive detention for three months since his arrest while prosecutors gathered evidence in the case.
The previous day, the judge had granted the prosecutor’s motion, only to reverse his decision on a defense appeal the next day. Limón Assistant Prosecutor Gustavo Santamaría said the judge cited “changing circumstances” from one day to the next for his decision to reverse his own ruling.
López Vega, who already served a 10-year prison sentence on international drug trafficking charges, was arrested on Jan. 22, 2014, along with two other suspects with the last names Vindas and Arrienta, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office told The Tico Times. Police found 300 kilograms of cocaine in three vehicles driven by the suspects as they traveled from Cahuita, on the southern Caribbean coast, to the port city of Limón.
“The Prosecutor’s Office based its request [for an extension of the preventive sentence] on the fact that [the suspect] is a flight risk due to the severity of the crime; and in addition, [the office] communicated to the Criminal Court that the respective formal accusation had been completed within the three-month period,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
The Prosecutor’s Office cannot appeal the ruling.
The judge also transferred the case to Guapiles, a Caribbean slope town west of Limón, where the defendant will be required to register once a month with the court until a trial date is set.
“These [preventive] measures in no way bind to the legal process this defendant, who already has served 10 years in prison and is an obvious flight risk, as well as a risk to repeat the same crime,” Santamaría said.
The Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to The Tico Times that this is at least the second major alleged drug trafficker to be released on bond by a Limón judge in less than two years. In January 2013, prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for suspect Ruadán Zamora Valerio, a Nicaraguan man who was busted months before with a ton of marijuana and later released on a ₡3 million ($5,500) bond. Zamora skipped bail and is now a fugitive from justice, along with his wife, Ivannia Zúñiga Araya.