Raids carried out throughout Costa Rica have exposed a network of paper companies that filter illegally mined gold to the United States, in a type of multimillion dollar laundering scheme that is not usually associated with the Central American country.

In late August, the Costa Rican authorities carried out 32 operations and arrested 27 people connected to illegal mining, according to the Public Ministry. Police also recovered false gold bars, drugs, cash and export documentation.

Walter Espinoza, general director of the Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ) in Costa Rica, stated that the investigation into the mining network began in April 2019 after the authorities of the Juan Santamaría International Airport, in the city of San José, observed an unprecedented amount of gold in export documentation.

The investigation ended up unveiling an extraction and export structure that operated at multiple levels, with different teams responsible for the extraction, molding, transport, export and laundering of gold. In total, the network ended up with at least $ 60 million in international gold sales, according to Espinoza, based on the seized export documents.

The gold, illegally mined from Crucitas de Cutris, along the northeast border with Nicaragua, and from Corcovado, in western Costa Rica, was transferred to the United States through foreign trade companies, authorities explained.

The dismantling of the network occurs a few months after a government report on ecological impact revealed that illegal miners in Crucitas de Cutris had taken another 70 hectares of land between 2018 and 2019, which represents an increase of 156 percent of the total of the exploited territory.

The study also noted that the expansion of illegal gold mining in the region had contaminated at least 35 local water bodies, and the report’s authors estimated that between 2017 and 2018 miners extracted about $ 200 million worth of gold from the region

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