Immigration officials had warning on British murder suspect

Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública photo British suspect is led to jail

The brutal murder of a Czech tourist near the Nicaraguan border last week may have exposed key flaws in Costa Rica’s international security policies and control of its own borders.

The day before the murder, the principal suspect, English citizen Alfred Saunders, passed freely from Nicaragua to Costa Rica through a checkpoint in Peñas Blancas, despite having been pegged as potentially dangerous by the International Police Agency, known as INTERPOL.

Stabbed to death a day later was the 22-year-old Czechoslovakian woman Alexandra Drbohlavova.

According to the Judicial Investigating Organization, the INTERPOL report characterized Saunders, the son of English academics, as dangerous with a propensity toward suicide and sexual abuse, especially with minors. The report indicated he was a possible culprit wanted for homicide, sexual crimes and arms and possession of firearms and explosives. He was considered to be mentally unstable as well, possibly due to schizophrenia.

A spokesperson for the Dirección General de Migración y Extranería, Heidy Bonilla, explained that the international alert was added to the country’s immigration database after INTERPOL formally solicited that it be added. She said the information regarding Saunders was known to the immigration officials who allowed him to enter the country. But, the classification of the alert as only a “green” one did not exclude Saunders from entering the country Dec. 26, she said. Ms. Bonilla said Saunders met all the requirements for entry.

After crossing the border, Saunders arrived at an organic farm, Finca La Libertad, in Aguas Claras de Upala Dec. 27. The farm owner had reportedly taken pity on Saunders, allowing him to borrow a tent and stay the night. Shortly thereafter Saunders stabbed his victim, who was camped close to him and volunteering on the farm, prosecutors allege. She was stabbed as many as 15 times in the face, neck and chest. Eventually the owner heard screams and came out of his house to find Saunders holding a knife and covered in blood outside of the women’s tent, judicial police reported. The owner subdued Saunders and notified local authorities, police said.

INTERPOL has a variety of alert levels ranging up to red, which is an order to apprehend a suspect. Yellow is a call to help locate missing minors, according to the agency’s Web site. The green alert only provides a warning to local law enforcement and calls for monitoring of the individual, even though, according to INTERPOL’s Web site, a green alert is said to be used for individuals who have “committed criminal offenses and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries.”

The INTERPOL alert originally was generated by the agency’s office in London Nov. 9, but a spokesperson for the Judicial Investigating Organization’s press office claimed neither judicial police officials nor agents in the local INTERPOL office located across the hallway from the press office in the judicial police headquarters in San José had anymore details as to why the report was generated.

A reporter was told to call London to figure out why the green alert was actually added into the Costa Rican data base.

The suspect is currently being held by Costa Rican authorities after being given six months of preventative detention while the case is investigated.

Saunders is only the latest of a procession of questionable individuals to enter Costa Rica without trouble. News files show that leading U.S. mob figures, fugitives and others seem to enter the country easily. However, immigration agents have been known to turn back individuals with extensive tattoos and those known to be associated with U.S. outlaw motorcycle gangs.

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