Costa Rica: Fiscal Police targets merchandise smuggling
By Dialogo April 05, 2012
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – The Fiscal Police has already accomplished three major busts of illegal merchandise this year in collaboration with the Container Control Unit and INTERPOL.
This collaboration between government officials and international agencies has prevented thousands of counterfeit products from entering the country, in addition to detecting tax-evading schemes.
“These seizures confirm the success we have obtained by strengthening the mechanisms to combat smuggling and tax fraud,” said Rowland Espinosa, the vice minister of finance.
On Feb. 9, the Fiscal Police seized thousands of undeclared products in a tax warehouse in the city of Caldera, on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, said Luis Alonso Bonilla, director of the Fiscal Police.
During the bust, the police found 5,500 perfumes and lotions of a recognized brand, and electronic products such as cell phones, gaming consoles, laptop computers, LCD TV screens and security cameras. The case has been forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office.
Five days later, the Fiscal Police made another major bust in Caldera, confiscating about 50,000 units of counterfeit shampoo in a freight container that came from Mexico.
Officials also found large amounts of fake product labels, jars, and lids stashed in the 600-box shipment, according to the Ministry of Finance.
During the operation, the police acted in collaboration with INTERPOL and the Container Control Unit (UCC), as part of the Container Control Program (PGCC) of the Ministry of Finance.
The UCC is comprised of members of the Fiscal Police, Customs Control, the National Coastguard Service (SNG), the Costa Rican National Institute on Drugs and the Department of Intelligence and National Security, Bonilla said.
“This unit has had many relevant results, as its main purposes are to strengthen the security in our ports and to prevent freight containers from being utilized for illegal activities –mainly for drug trafficking, merchandise smuggling and tax evasion,” he added.
On Mar. 9, the Fiscal Police finished counting almost 34,000 units of undeclared products they had confiscated in collaboration with UCC and Customs Control during a Feb. 20 inspection of a freight container in Moín, Costa Rica’s main port on the Atlantic Coast.
The shipment had its taxes prepaid, but the products that had been declared did not match the ones brought into the country, according to the official statement from the Ministry of Finance.
Last year, the UCC issued 42 alerts on 92 containers they suspected were sent by narco-traffickers, according to the Ministry of Finance. So far in 2012, the UCC has declared four alerts on seven cases.
Bonilla stressed the importance of strengthening measures to fight smuggling and fraud.
“We are trying to attack the problem from the root by targeting large defrauders and criminal organizations – not those who are using the illegal goods,” he said.
The government has provided the PGCC with a facility for research and analysis in Heredia, about 7.5 miles from the nation’s capital of San José, as well as Registration Offices in Caldera and Moín.
“We also have intelligence units in other countries around the world, such as Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Pakistan, Belgium, Spain, Togo and Afghanistan, among others,” Bonilla added.
The PGCC also is developing strategies to monitor companies involved in freight transport, making sure they aren’t involved in drug, weapons and human trafficking, as well as any financial crimes, including tax fraud.
“We are constantly monitoring customs declarations in our department, and if we see something suspicious, we issue an alert for our field agents to intervene,” Bonilla said “We also make use of common technologies to keep in touch with intelligence units around the world.”