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Viewing cable 07SANJOSE132, CHINESE ALIEN SMUGGLING RING SMASHED IN COSTA RICA

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07SANJOSE132 2007-01-24 22:10 2011-03-08 16:04 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy San Jose
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasDestacadas/Investigacion2702320.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotaPrincipal/Investigacion2702324.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702325.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702326.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-06/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702327.aspx
VZCZCXYZ0008
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #0132/01 0242234
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 242234Z JAN 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7067
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0123
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000132 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN, WHA/PPC, CA/FPP, GTIP, EAP/CM AND 
INL FOR HSTC 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV KCRM SMIG KJUS KFRD CVIS PINR CS CH
SUBJECT: CHINESE ALIEN SMUGGLING RING SMASHED IN COSTA RICA 
 
 
1. SUMMARY:  In a powerful display of honesty and courage, 
Costa Rican Immigration Director Mario Zamora refused a USD 
2.5 million bribe from Chinese alien smugglers and instead 
assisted in a sting operation which caught the ringleader and 
six others on January 12, 2007.  Most of the arrested are 
Chinese residents of Costa Rica who were apparently importing 
aliens to work as debt slaves in their Costa Rican 
businesses.  Also detained was Nelson Garita Vargas, a 
staffer for the Legislative Assembly.  The GOCR's 
investigation continues into Garita's role and possible 
involvement by current members of the legislature.  This case 
demonstrates the brazen methods used by alien smugglers in 
Costa Rica.  END SUMMARY 
 
 
USD 5,000 PER HEAD 
------------------ 
 
2. In November of 2006, ringleader Xiahong Tan met with 
Immigration Police Director Francisco Castaing to request the 
release of two Chinese nationals facing deportation.  Xiahong 
offered USD 10,000 in exchange for Castaing's "assistance" 
with obtaining Immigration Director Zamora's approval for the 
release.  Xiahong suggested that she had worked in similar 
fashion with officials from previous administrations. 
Castaing informed Zamora of the offer and Zamora agreed to 
meet with Xiahong after alerting his superiors and judicial 
investigators (OIJ). 
 
3. Vice Minister for Public Security Rafael Gutierrez told us 
he was impressed by the counter-surveillance measures taken 
by Xiahon--indicative of the organization's sophistication 
and discipline.  At the meeting, Zamora introduced an 
undercover OIJ agent to Xiahong as his confidant and insisted 
that there be no further meetings between Xiahong and 
himself.  Xiahong told Zamora she would pay USD 5,000 per 
visa for up to 500 people (totaling USD 2.5 million).  Zamora 
told Xiahong that it was too late to free the two Chinese 
facing deportation but he "agreed" to approve four visas once 
she provided USD 20,000 to the undercover officer posing as 
Zamora's confidant. 
 
WORK WITH ME OR ELSE 
-------------------- 
 
4. In a subsequent meeting the money was paid and the four 
visas issued, after which investigation progressed quickly. 
Authorities identified several Chinese businessmen who were 
using Xiahong as an intermediary to buy visas, as well as her 
primary associate, Shufang Xie.  According to the charges 
against her, Xiahong became more aggressive with each 
transaction, insisting that Zamora deal "exclusively" with 
her organization and threatening his life if anything went 
wrong.  Xiahong requested additional visas and told the 
undercover agent that had USD 200,000 to pay for them.  When 
she was arrested on January 12, Xiahong had 33 Chinese 
passports in her possession.  Subsequent raids on her house 
and other properties associated with the smuggling ring 
netted USD 140,000 in cash, photocopies of another 60 Chinese 
passports, and at least 10 illegal immigrants who are 
believed to have been trafficked as debt slaves to local 
Chinese businessmen by Xiahong's organization.  In all, seven 
members of the ring are being held in preventative detention. 
 
5. Investigators continue to probe the role of Nelson Garita 
Vargas.  Vice Minister Gutierrez told us that at the time of 
his arrest, Garita was driving Xiahong to a meeting with the 
undercover agent.  He also told us that Xiahong boasted to 
the undercover agent that she had contributed to several 
political campaigns and, as a result, had at least two 
legislators in her pocket.  Garita has been a permanent 
staffer at the legislative sssembly since 1994.  He ran 
unsuccessfully for office on the Social Christian Union Party 
(PUSC) congressional ticket in 2006. 
 
A LONG-RUNNING STORY 
-------------------- 
 
6.  Attorney General Dall'Anese told reporters that the 
investigation revealed a modus operandi apparently long 
employed at Costa Rican Immigration.  With the change of 
government this year, the traffickers were apparently trying 
to recruit new officials into their scheme.  Supporting 
Dall'Anese's statement, local media reprised stories from 
2001 which reported that Chinese traffickers were then 
offering legislators USD 5,000 per head for "assistance" in 
obtaining visas for Chinese immigrants and that at least 16 
legislators had intervened with Immigration on behalf of 110 
Chinese immigrants. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
7.  THE BAD NEWS: This case highlights the brazen methods 
still used by alien smugglers in Costa Rica and the large 
amounts of cash at their disposal to throw at often poorly 
paid GOCR officials.  This case is also troubling for the 
light it sheds on potential connections to the Legislative 
Assembly.  The fact that one of the parties in the Arias 
Administration's working coalition may be involved heightens 
the political significance.  We will follow the investigation 
into Garita's activities closely. 
 
8.  THE GOOD NEWS:  Although alien smuggling is not a new 
phenomenon in Costa Rica, this sort of successful operation 
is.  There were no similar stings conducted during the 
Pacheco Administration, for example, while over 2,000 Chinese 
were issued visas to Costa Rica between 2003 and 2006.  In 
our view, the case is most noteworthy for the courage and 
honesty displayed by Mario Zamora, Director of Immigration, 
who turned down a fortune and literally risked his life to do 
the right thing. 
LANGDALE