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Viewing cable 09SANJOSE389, COSTA RICA AND CHINA BUST "SNAKEHEAD" TRAFFICKING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09SANJOSE389 2009-05-12 19:07 2011-03-04 16:04 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy San Jose
Appears in these articles:
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/NotasDestacadas/Investigacion2697549.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2697564.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/NotaPrincipal/Investigacion2697557.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2697581.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2697579.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/NotasSecundarias/Investigacion2702553.aspx
http://www.nacion.com/2011-03-04/Investigacion/Relacionados/Investigacion2702554.aspx
VZCZCXRO2596
PP RUEHGH
DE RUEHSJ #0389/01 1321945
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 121945Z MAY 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0825
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0175
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU PRIORITY 0001
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI PRIORITY 0001
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 SAN JOSE 000389 
 
SIPDIS 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR WHA/CEN, DRL AND EAP/CM; ALSO FOR DS/HSTC 
DOJ FOR DOMESTIC SECURITY SECTION 
CBP FOR OFFICE OF ALIEN SMUGGLING INTERDICTION AND OFFICE OF 
INTELLIGENCE 
BEIJING FOR ARSO KEITH KNOWLES 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/11/2019 
TAGS: PHUM PREL KTIP ASEC KCRM KFRD CH CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA AND CHINA BUST "SNAKEHEAD" TRAFFICKING 
RING 
 
REF: A. BEIJING 01062 
     B. WHA/CEN ASDAR OF APRIL 16 
 
Classified By: DCM Peter Brennan for reason 1.4 (d). 
 
1. (C) SUMMARY: As reported in Refs, Costa Rican and Chinese 
authorities have broken up an apparent child-trafficking ring 
which was attempting to bring over three hundred Chinese 
children into Costa Rica.  According to GOCR officials, 
Chinese authorities have arrested at least three suspects in 
China, one of whom is cooperating with the authorities. In 
San Jose, the Costa Rican government has fired one former 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs official, who is being 
investigated for tampering with the visa process.  GOCR 
authorities are still investigating how many of the reported 
109 minors who were issued visas (see Ref A) actually entered 
Costa Rica.  Immigration officials in San Jose believe the 
victims were being brought to Costa Rica to serve ten years 
of indentured servitude before "earning" their freedom.  We 
understand that Costa Rica will host a meeting of Central 
American immigration officials on May 20-21 to discuss Asian 
smuggling/trafficking in the region. END SUMMARY. 
 
Joint Chinese-Costa Rican Investigation 
--------------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) On April 24, Embassy officials met with Costa Rican 
Director of Immigration Manuel Zamora to review the status of 
the investigation into a Chinese child smuggling/trafficking 
ring, first made public to the Costa Rican media the week of 
April 13, and reported by Embassy Beijing in Ref A.  Zamora 
reiterated the base facts of the case as reported in 
Refs--that snakehead mafia members had applied for "family 
reunification visas" for over three hundred Chinese youths, 
claiming their alleged parents were Costa Rican residents. 
Irregularities in the applications and reports of the 
attempted bribery of consular officers at Costa Rica's 
Embassy in Beijing triggered an investigation by Costa Rican 
and Chinese authorities. 
 
3. (SBU) According to Zamora, the Costa Rican/Chinese 
investigation revealed that in many cases the alleged parents 
of applicants were only a few years older than the applicants 
themselves.  Additionally, some petitions listed the same 
parents for three separate children, which raised a flag 
given China's long-standing one-child policy.  As reported in 
Ref A, Chinese officials then began to sit in on interviews 
with applicants, determining that the applicants had no real 
links to their alleged parents in Costa Rica.  Further 
investigation revealed that the snakeheads were auctioning 
off family names--approaching a Costa Rican with a Chinese 
surname, such as "Wu", and offering a price for the use of 
their name. The snakehead counterparts in Guandong would then 
auction the name to clients in China who also had the surname 
"Wu". 
 
Arrests in China, Ongoing Investigation in Costa Rica 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
4. (C) Chinese authorities have made at least three arrests 
in the case, and one of the suspects is cooperating with the 
authorities, according to Zamora.  Chinese policy also 
reportedly uncovered a "how to" manual for Chinese clients 
applying for Costa Rican visas.  Thus far only one Costa 
Rican official, Fernando Wong, has been implicated in the 
scandal. (NOTE: a review of visa records reveals that Mr. 
Wong has never applied for a U.S. visa).  Wong is accused of 
traveling to China to attempt to bribe Consular officials, as 
reported in Ref A.  Wong has been fired from his low-level 
administrative position with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
(itself a significant step, given the stiff job protections 
built into the Costa Rican civil service), and is under 
investigation by the Costa Rican judicial police.  Two other 
non-official Costa Ricans of Asian origin are also under 
investigation, though the lack of a Judicial Cooperation 
Agreement between Costa Rica and China might limit the 
information that could be used in 
court if charges are brought against the individuals. 
 
5. (C) Costa Rican officials are unsure of how many Chinese 
might have been trafficked into Costa Rica before authorities 
became aware of the ring.  Zamora stated that the joint Costa 
 
SAN JOSE 00000389  002 OF 002 
 
 
Rican-Chinese effort prevented the travel of some three 
hundred teenagers, aged 12-18.  If any of the Chinese youths 
did make it to Costa Rica, it is believed that they would 
have melded into "artificial" nuclear families where their 
presence would not be seen as unusual.  Zamora said that in 
all likelihood the adolescents would work for ten years 
without pay for their "family", then be freed of their 
servitude.  Zamora stated that the Department of Immigration 
as well as the Costa Rican police services are continuing to 
investigate whether any Chinese linked to the ring made it 
into Costa Rica, and if so, their current whereabouts. He 
added that there may be one significant fringe benefit from 
the current investigation: the 2007 smuggling case, which was 
cracked by a Costa Rican sting operation led by Zamora (and 
which generated threats against his personal safety), may be 
re-opened (See 2007 San Jose 132, NOTAL.) 
 
Next Steps 
---------- 
 
6. (SBU) Costa Rica is sending a high-level immigration 
official to Beijing in June to meet with Costa Rican Embassy 
and Chinese officials to further discuss this trafficking 
case in particular.  Zamora also stated that he will host a 
meeting of Central American Immigration officials on May 
20-21 in San Jose to discuss the issue of the smuggling and 
trafficking of Asians to the region. The meeting will be 
technical in nature, focusing on migrant documents and 
exchanging information on Costa Rica's knowledge of the 
network system used by snakehead groups to obtain malafide 
visas for Chinese nationals.  In addition, the national 
legislature may hold hearings on the issue.  The Chairman of 
the Counternarcotics Committee, Federico Tinoco, happened to 
be visiting his son (on a scholarship) in Beijing when the 
Costa Rica story broke in the media there. 
 
 
COMMENT: Further Investigation/Prosecution Crucial 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
7. (C) While this latest incident must be viewed as a Costa 
Rican-Chinese success story, it should also serve as a loud 
wake-up call to GOCR officials.  While human trafficking 
issues are not new in Costa Rica, this is the largest known 
case of attempted trafficking, and first major case of 
child-trafficking, offering further proof to otherwise 
doubtful public officials that trafficking is indeed an issue 
in Costa Rica.  With a soon-to-be opened Embassy in Cuba, 
another major departure point for smuggling/trafficking cases 
to Costa Rica, as well as the continuing consular operations 
in China, GOCR officials must be at the top of their game to 
combat international trafficking.  Fortunately, Zamora and 
his senior staff in San Jose, and Ambassador Antonio Burgues 
and his staff in Beijing, did all the right things in this 
case, not only breaking up an apparent child trafficking ring 
before it could really get started, but forging a new 
partnership with Chinese counterparts in the process.  The 
May conference on Asian smuggling should be a positive next 
step, but locating the Chinese children who were issued 
visas, and prosecuting those responsible, would be even 
better.  Our thanks to Embassy Beijing for teaming with us 
"long distance" to continue to work on this case. 
 
CIANCHETTE