San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Crime Beat

Organized crime prosecutor named new director of Costa Rica's investigative police

Costa Rica’s Supreme Court elected assistant prosecutor Walter Espinoza as the new chief of the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) on Monday. Espinoza, a 47-year-old prosecutor specializing in organized crime, steps into the position as OIJ chief at a time when Costa Rica struggles with a spike in killings tied to organized crime.

Establishing a unit dedicated to fighting organized crime is one of the director-elect’s top priorities, he said during a news conference Monday. Espinoza also highlighted additional training for OIJ agents, coordinating operations with other police agencies, and anti-corruption investigations, among other areas on which he will focus.

The director-elect said the creation of a new unit was “complicated and would take time” – a less than rallying response for many concerned about a rising number of homicides and the ability of organized criminal networks to set roots in Costa Rica. He said the unit’s creation requires a formal study to establish its mission, staffing needs and other logistics.

Espinoza said the proposed OIJ organized crime task force would coordinate with other police agencies – including drugs, financial and immigration – but stopped short of describing the inter-institutional organized crime unit proposed by Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata in response to a wave of homicides connected to organized crime here.

The OIJ has been facing scrutiny over the professionalization of its officers, ranging from spying to abuse of authority. During the 2014 World Cup, for example, OIJ agents used law enforcement databases to snoop on Costa Rican goalie Keylor Navas’ family. In June, OIJ’s then-chief of Quepos was arrested for allegedly detaining U.S. nationals illegally in relation to a land dispute.

“Training is vital, important and part of what my advisers who accompany me will address,” Espinoza said, but did not specify which areas in particular the training would focus on besides making investigations more effective.

Espinoza has 24 years experience as a prosecutor specializing in organized crime, trying cases in drug trafficking, kidnapping and homicide. Espinoza’s was one of 59 names under consideration for the position by a nominating commission composed of representatives from the four chambers of the Supreme Court. After the names were culled, the final selection was voted on by the full Supreme Court.

The OIJ is the investigative arm of the judicial branch, tasked with investigating crimes and supplying evidence to help the Prosecutor’s Office try cases. The National Police – Fuerza Pública in Spanish – is tasked with preventive policing and handling active situations.

Espinoza replaces former OIJ Director Francisco Segura who retired in July, and temporary director Gerald Campos. He assumes the role of director on Dec. 1.

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Let’s see if the assistant prosecutor in the organized crime unit, Walter Espinoza, is up for his new job. One thing that will be very indicative of how he will be, is how he handles internal corruption. Currently, Mr. Espinoza has one of his own, who is part of an internal investigation. Organized Crime official, Jose Penaranda Chaverri, currently has an administrative proceeding against dating back to when Penaranda was a Prosecutor for OIJ Santa Cruz in April 2011.

This is a very serious case, in which Penaranda, who was one of the ring leaders, was recently called in by internal investigators to give a declaration pertaining to the event in which he was the lead prosecutor. He totally lied and perjured himself. As the lead Prosecutor in the original case, he and his OIJ partners have been caught in lie after lie. This case I am referring to, was totally that of an organized crime syndicate-put on by corrupt government employees in the office of Santa Cruz.

It includes the OIJ Jefe, Victor Chavez Chavarria and Judge Margarita Baltodano Pazos as well as other government employees in Santa Cruz. It includes his cohorts in Santa Cruz, investigators Rodolfo Vasquez Marchena and Roger Hernandez Vasquez who were all part of this extortion racket of crime, corruption and falsified evidence. It is rather ironic that a few months after perpetrating this organized crime, that Mr. Penaranda is then elevated with a promotion to work within San Jose’s Organized Crime Unit. The case # which references these malicious acts is: # 031-DRG-14

….it will be very interesting to see how the new OIJ jefe, Walter Espiniza, reacts to this situation– that includes his former fellow partner from the Organized Crime Unit- Jose Penaranda Chaverri. The two OIJ Investigators, Roger Hernandez and Rodolfo Vasquez are currently in the process of being reprimanded.

Also of note, is this other case involving Penaranda:

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Ken Morris

Be careful, buddy. When you write things like “he totally lied and perjured himself,” you may be opening yourself up to defamation charges. I’m no lawyer, much less a Tico lawyer, but I think that when a person goes from outlining suspicious circumstances that cast doubt on a person’s honesty to calling them a liar publicly, you become vulnerable.

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I appreciate your concern, Ken. Let’s let the process and corresponding evidence speak for itself. I look forward to the day in court against these people. And hopefully soon, that day will come. The administrative procedure against their partners has already opened all of them up to liability for their blatantly criminal actions. They simply did not tell the truth in their original case file from 5 years ago or in their written declarations to investigators about it, from just 4 months ago. That case was easily provable and the internal investigators have already ruled against them. Now the question is, will the two who are currently being reprimanded by Inspeccion Judicial “sing” on their higher up partners involvement, stay silent or continue to fabricate nonsensical stories? We are certainly prepared for all aspects at this point.

If the media did its job, then it certainly would propel the situation. Apparently. they must have orders not to do that at this point. That certainly doesn’t bode well for their objective investigative credibility. And that seems to be an ongoing theme in regards to this case. But everyone involved will soon know for certainty that one cannot hide the sun with their finger…

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