Last Updated: Tuesday, 06 October 2015, 07:32 GMT

Costa Rica: Chinese mafia in Costa Rica, including its activities and police actions against it

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 9 April 2003
Citation / Document Symbol CRI41417.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Costa Rica: Chinese mafia in Costa Rica, including its activities and police actions against it, 9 April 2003, CRI41417.E, available at: [accessed 6 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The information that follows was obtained from a 3 June 2002 article published by the Costa Rican daily La Nación. Additional references to Chinese organized crime in Costa Rica can be found in CRI39661.E of 14 August 2002, CRI34424.E of 17 May 2000 and CRI29867.E of 17 August 1998.

In June 2002 Costa Rican police announced that Asian gangs known as triads had been "reactivated" (reactivadas) after four years of apparent calm, collecting on debts through kidnapping, beatings and murder (La Nación 3 June 2002). The police claimed to have identified four such triads operating at casinos and other gambling centres; however, the only recent actions that could be attributed to them were two abductions, one in Alajuela and the other in San Jose (ibid.).

The source adds that the "Chinese mafia" (mafia china) entered Costa Rica in 1991, but it wasn't until 1997 that authorities in Panama officially reported the presence of 18 Asian gangs operating in Central American countries (ibid.). These gangs reportedly operate only against "other Asians" (sus congéneres orientales), solely to collect gambling debts (ibid.). The crimes last attributed to them in Costa Rica were the separate October 1998 kidnappings of a youth and a woman, both involved in gambling debts and freed after the police intervened (ibid.). The more recent crimes took place in May 2002: a man was abducted and held a number of days while a payment of several million colones was demanded from his relatives in Costa Rica and China; however, the man escaped through the roof of the house where he was being held (ibid.). The other case involved a woman who was released after being held for some hours (ibid.). A ransom payment to be made at the park where she was released reportedly ended in a brawl between those making the payment and those collecting it (ibid.).

The article includes a photograph and caption indicating that Si Yan Jil Liu is a man currently serving a 64-year prison term for a triple crime and five attempted homicides (ibid.). The man reportedly hired a gang to settle a gambling debt (ibid.).

Although the above-cited report does not specify the triple crime attributed to Si Yan Jil Liu, a 1997 La Nación editorial referred to a triple murder in a hotel in downtown San Jose (16 Apr. 1997). The editorial argued a link between the triple murder, two Chinese gangs reportedly operating in Costa Rica and a gang of eight Chinese men involved in extortion and captured in January 1997 at San Francisco de Dos Rios in Costa Rica (ibid.). The editorial raised questions about the proliferation of casinos in San Jose and Chinese immigration in Costa Rica (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


La Nación [San Jose]. 3 June 2002. Adrián Meza G. "Resurgen cobros violentos." [Accessed 9 Apr. 2003]

_____. 16 April 1997. "Presencia de mafias." [Accessed 9 Apr. 2003]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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