Asian Triads. Photo credit:
Asian Triads. Photo credit:

The cold-blooded murder of an Asian man in downtown San Jose is renewing fears that Chinese Triads and other Asian organized crime groups might be increasing their presence in Costa Rica.

According to a press release by the Judicial Investigation Organization (Spanish initials: OIJ), agents on duty responded to an incident in a coin-operated gambling machine establishment near the inner city neighborhood around the church of La Merced, not far from the busy San Juan de Dios Hospital. The preliminary report is as follows:

An unidentified man calmly walked into the gaming parlor and shot the clerk once in the head. The clerk was busy counting money when he was shot, and the register was open and brimming with cash that the assailant did not bother to even look at. The attacker did not say a word and walked out at a brisk, yet measured, pace. For this reason, the OIJ is already ruling out a robbery attempt.

The victim’s name has been identified by daily tabloid La Teja as Alex Huanglee, who was 36 years old. The gaming parlor is located in an area known for its low-rent bars, discount stores and flophouses frequented by Nicaraguan immigrants. There have been no reports about the apparent ethnicity of the murderer on the loose, but store owners nearby recall an argument between the deceased and another man days ago.

The execution of Mr. Huanglee conforms to the work of a hitman under the employ of an Asian Triad. In recent years, the National Commission for the Improvement of Judicial Administration (Spanish acronym: CONAMAJ) has been tracking reports of criminal activity by Asian organized crime groups in Costa Rica. These reports include the kidnapping of a fisherman in Limon over an alleged drug debt. The ransom demand in this case was consistent with Asian Triad custom: Deliver the money or body parts will be cut.

Also in Limon, prosecutors have been paying attention to the increased participation of Chinese nationals with regard to large-scale smuggling of liquor into Costa Rica. In 2004, Panamanian law enforcement investigated 18 people involved in the kidnapping of Chinese national Yu Wei Qui, and one of them was found to have faced a murder charge in Costa Rica.

The concern over Chinese Triads goes back to the late 20th century, after which there was a period of relative calm. In 2002, however, reports of Asian organized crime reappeared. The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada published a 2003 report on the situation:

In June 2002 Costa Rican police announced that Asian gangs known as triads had been “reactivated” (reactivadas) after four years of apparent calm, collecting on debts through kidnapping, beatings and murder (La Nación 3 June 2002). The police claimed to have identified four such triads operating at casinos and other gambling centres; however, the only recent actions that could be attributed to them were two abductions, one in Alajuela and the other in San Jose (ibid.).

The source adds that the “Chinese mafia” (mafia china) entered Costa Rica in 1991, but it wasn’t until 1997 that authorities in Panama officially reported the presence of 18 Asian gangs operating in Central American countries (ibid.). These gangs reportedly operate only against “other Asians” (sus congéneres orientales), solely to collect gambling debts (ibid.).

Article by Costa Rica Star

Stay up to date with the latest stories by signing up to our newsletter, or following us on Facebook.