QCOSTARICA – Travelling around the country with lots of cash has never been a good idea, but it seems more are doing so these days.
Last week, in Jaco on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, a man was arrested for carrying US$40.000 in cash. This morning (Wednesday), another, a motorcyclist acting nervous when a police approached him, was found carrying US$350.000 in cash in his messenger bag.
According to the police report by uniformed officials, the man became noticeable nervous when he was approached by police at a checkpoint near the Los Incurables bridge that connects Guadalupe and Goicoechea.
German Acosta, head of the Grupo de Apoyo Operacional (GAO) – specialized police unit – confirmed the seizure and said the man is now in the custody of Judicial authorities.
Are these to particular incidents isolated cases or all part of the estimated US$4.2 billion dollars annually that is laundered in Costa Rica?
The head of the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad (DIS) – Costa Rica’s intelligence service, Mariano Figueres, says money obtained through illegal activities such as drug trafficking appearing to be from legal sources enters the financial system without problems.
“I think well all in Costa Rica see money laundering daily and in different dimensions. For example, it is remarkable when a person within three years grew (financially) or had an impressive economic development that can not be justified, this is seen in different neighborhoods, in our neighbors and even in our companies. The laundering is very visible, I think it angers people,” he said.
According to the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas (ICD) – Costa Rican Drug Institute, criminal organizations introduce illegal profits into the financial system through the purchase of real estate or investments in construction in some or all cases. They also distribute money through financial institutions, casinos, businesses, money exchange houses and other business, both local and international.
Figueres said recognizing money laundering is simple, however, combatting it is not, especially when one doesn’t have the tools to do so.
“The country is just beginning to develop the tools to face the problem and is one of the biggest challenges we have (…),” Figueres said.
According to the DIS director, illegal drugs moves from South America to North America and the cash flows back in the other direction.
Figueres says that money laundering represents a “threat to the economy” because the amounts are “very significant”.