Costa Rica News – Police officers in Costa Rica have been arrested for shaking down Canadians in an extortion scheme targeting unwary tourists.
Two Canadian visitors — a married couple — were traveling near Belén, in the northwest region of the country, on Nov. 14 when they were stopped at a police checkpoint. They were about 30 kilometres from the area’s resorts and beaches and 250 kilometres from the capital, San José.
Two police officers with the Fuerza Pública, a civilian police agency responsible for the majority of street policing in the country, asked the Canadians to show them their passports, according to the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), a specialized national police agency, similar to the FBI in the United States.
The Canadians said they were not carrying their passports with them and the officers told them that not producing their identification to police was a crime and they could be arrested.
To prevent arrest and detention, the officers told them, they could pay a fine of $600 to them on the spot, according to the OIJ.
The tourists told the officers they did not have that amount of money with them and the two officers allegedly drove them in a police car to Filadelfia, the area’s main city, about 10 kilometres away, to use a bank machine. The couple withdrew the cash and gave it to them.
“The officers told them that it was a crime in our country but it is false. In our country it is not necessary to carry the passport. We recommend that for the tourists’ security, but it’s not necessary,” said Marisel Rodrígues Solís, a spokeswoman for the OIJ.
Afterwards, feeling aggrieved, the tourists told a local tour guide what had happened and were informed that it was a scam. The payment was not a legitimate fine but a demand for a bribe. The tour guide encouraged the Canadians to file a complaint against the officers.
The OIJ investigated and identified the two officers. The policemen were arrested Nov. 29 when they came to the local OIJ headquarters on an official police errand.
The two male officers, aged 48 and 31, are charged with extortion.
The Canadians were not identified and the OIJ could not say what city or province they are from.
Costa Rica has long been seen as an area of relative security and stability in a region often associated with drug trafficking, corruption and crime, leading it to be nicknamed the “Switzerland of Central America.”
It is a land blessed with beaches, rainforests and rich wildlife and is popular with Canadian and American tourists and retirees. It relies heavily on tourism. This week’s news has not been good.
On Tuesday, a security guard working at a hotel where a missing Florida woman had been staying in Costa Rica was arrested for her murder.
Carla Stefaniak went to Costa Rica to celebrate her 36th birthday and was reported missing on Nov. 28 after she failed to show up at the airport for her flight home.
Police found the body of a woman near the hotel, buried and partially wrapped in plastic bags. Wednesday, officers confirmed it was Stefaniak’s remains. She had been stabbed and hit on the head, authorities said.
By Adrian Humphreys, National Post