World

Police in Costa Rica arrested in bold extortion plot targeting Canadian tourists

Police officers in Costa Rica have been arrested for shaking
down Canadians in an extortion scheme targeting unwary
tourists.

Two Canadian visitors — a married couple — were traveling near
Belén, in the northwest region of the country, on Nov. 14 when
they were stopped at a police checkpoint. They were about 30
kilometres from the area’s resorts and beaches and 250
kilometres from the capital, San José.

Two police officers with the Fuerza Pública, a civilian police
agency responsible for the majority of street policing in the
country, asked the Canadians to show them their passports,
according to the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), a
specialized national police agency, similar to the FBI in the
United States.

The Canadians said they were not carrying their passports with
them and the officers told them that not producing their
identification to police was a crime and they could be
arrested.

To prevent arrest and detention, the officers told them, they
could pay a fine of $600 to them on the spot, according to the
OIJ.

The tourists told the officers they did not have that amount of
money with them and the two officers allegedly drove them in a
police car to Filadelfia, the area’s main city, about 10
kilometres away, to use a bank machine. The couple withdrew the
cash and gave it to them.

“The officers told them that it was a crime
in our country but it is false. In our country it is not
necessary to carry the passport. We recommend that for the
tourists’ security, but it’s not necessary,” said Marisel
Rodrígues Solís, a spokeswoman for the OIJ.

Afterwards, feeling aggrieved, the tourists told a local tour
guide what had happened and were informed that it was a scam.
The payment was not a legitimate fine but a demand for a bribe.
The tour guide encouraged the Canadians to file a complaint
against the officers.

The OIJ investigated and identified the two officers. The
policemen were arrested Nov. 29 when they came to the local OIJ
headquarters on an official police errand.

The two male officers, aged 48 and 31, are charged with
extortion.

The Canadians were not identified and the OIJ could not say
what city or province they are from.

Costa Rica has long been seen as an area of relative security
and stability in a region often associated with drug
trafficking, corruption and crime, leading it to be nicknamed
the “Switzerland of Central America.”

It is a land blessed with beaches, rainforests and rich
wildlife and is popular with Canadian and American tourists and
retirees. It relies heavily on tourism. This week’s news has
not been good.

On Tuesday, a security guard working at a hotel where a missing
Florida woman had been staying in Costa Rica was arrested for her murder.

Carla Stefaniak went to Costa Rica to celebrate her 36th
birthday and was reported missing on Nov. 28 after she failed
to show up at the airport for her flight home.

Police found the body of a woman near the hotel, buried and
partially wrapped in plastic bags. Wednesday, officers
confirmed it was Stefaniak’s remains. She had been stabbed and
hit on the head, authorities said.

• Email: ahumphreys@nationalpost.com
| Twitter: AD_Humphreys

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