Proposed law would let special court take possessions

The central government is proposing to chip away at the country’s Constitution in order to fight international crime.

Casa Presidencial is sending to the legislature two proposals.

The first would allow confiscation of goods believed to have been earned through illicit means. This would take place via a special prosecutor and a court even though the owner of the goods has not been convicted of a crime.

A second measure, which has been spoken about in the past, would allow the extradition of Costa Ricans to other countries if they appear to be involved in organized crime.

There have been a string of cases where Costa Ricans facing charges elsewhere have managed to assert or gain Costa Rican citizenship to avoid extradition. In a few cases, officials were able to determine that the citizenship was granted based on falsehoods, and the citizenship was revoked.

Other Costa Ricans fell into the hands of foreign law enforcement when they left the country.

The idea of confiscating and retaining possessions is based on the theory that, as Casa Presidencial said, a criminal organization without sufficient funds for its operations is physically impossible.

Costa Rican law enforcement routinely takes over homes and removes property in high profile cases. The decision appears to be subjective, and it helps if the suspect is elsewhere.  In addition, the judiciary retains vehicles used in the commission of a crime.

The problem is that the vehicles and goods usually deteriorate while they are in a warehouse or parking lot awaiting the processing of the criminal complaint against the owner. That may take years.

Still unclear is how a special prosecutor and a special court will enforce the confiscation law if it is passed. That information will be in the details of the law when it finally is published as a proposal in the La Gaceta official Web site.

Law officers and prosecutors have been very uneven in their confiscation of household goods. That was not done to two presidents who faced criminal charges.

Article 45 of the Costa Rican Constitution clearly states that property is inviolable and then specifies how the state can take land with compensation. However, Carlos Alvarado, the director of the Instituto Costarricense sobre Drogas, says that ill-gotten goods are not covered by this clause. He says such goods lack the protection of the Constitution, although that concept is nowhere to be found in the document.

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