The Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería (DGME) – Costa Rica’s immigration service – supports the bill that seeks that foreigners convicted of crimes in the country do not obtain Costa Rican citizenship.

Immigration Director, Raquel Vargas, in a written statement, told the Legislative Committee on Security and Drug Trafficking, “For the Directorate General (…) foreigners should not have a criminal record, or have committed a criminal offense in Costa Rica or abroad, which is why a positive criterion is issued regarding the bill.”

Under current regulations, foreigners who have been convicted in Costa Rica for crimes such as homicide, trafficking of persons, child pornography or terrorism, can without problems obtain naturalization.

This has been criticized by national security specialists, such as the director of the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ), Walter Espinoza, who pointed out that there are many foreigners in the country who have a criminal background, but there is a legal vacuum that forces authorities to issue them nationality.

“We are giving away cheaply Costa Rican nationality. Nationality is not to be given away or raffled. Costa Rica is the country with the softest legislation, the least demanding,” said Espinoza

German Rojas, of the Supreme Court of Elections (TSE), confirmed that under the current regulations nationality has been given to foreigners with convictions in the country for homicide, trafficking and rape of minors.

“It affects us in the future for extradition purposes. It’s a problem. It has been a refuge for big criminals,” Rojas argued.

Shameful example

An example is the infamous case of Arthur Budovsy, at the head of Liberty Reserve, arrested money laundering of more than US$6 billion dollars.

Budovsy became a naturalized Costa Rican after marrying a Tica (Costa Rican woman) who worked selling snacks in front of the immigration offices in La Uruca. Apparently he paid her ¢300,000 colones (US$535 dollars) for the marriage and thus obtained naturalization.

This is one of the cases that hit Costa Rican security authorities the most. Even for many, it is like a mockery of how fragile the system is.

There was no obstacle and Budovsy even renounced US citizenship to avoid extradition.

But the case is not isolated. Dozens of foreigners over the years have sought Costa Rican nationality to avoid extradition.