Saving Unlimited victims need a fair deal

Today Luis Milanes will be back in court trying to buy his way out of a fraud trial.

Costa Rican law allows a suspect to settle privately with crime victims to avoid a judicial process.

Milanes, the operator of a string of casinos, has offered a package of properties supposedly worth $10 million to those victims of his Saving Unlimited high interest scheme who have filed against him.

The major property is the Europa Hotel, but no one seems to have obtained financial statements to see if it is worth anything more than the land on which it sits in downtown San José.

If the fraud victims accept the deal, they might not get much. There are bank fees, lawyer fees, brokerage fees to sell the properties, taxes, insurance and probably a host of management fees. The lawyers and bankers like to be paid first.

In a similar case, that of Oswaldo Villalobos, judges took his properties after conviction, but the victims in that case still are waiting for some of the money awarded them because the real estate market is slow.

Oh, and one lawyer took $2 million off the top.
There may be good reasons for former Saving Unlimited investors to take the deal. Many are older. There is no guarantee that Milanes ever will be convicted in a court trial. Prosecutors just do not have their heart in it, it seems.

But it would seem unfair after ruining so many lives, that Milanes should be the one calling the shots. He has not included those casinos in the offering to investors. Those are money machines. When he was collecting investments from those would become victims, he and his colleagues said the money would be used for casino development. So it seems fair that victims should get the casinos.

More than that. Milanes should be ordered by the court to file a sworn statement of all his assets, both here and in other countries. And then the court should appoint asset trackers to verify the document. After all, the missing $200 million has to be somewhere.

We remember Savings Unlimited offering a special higher interest deal for deposits in the weeks before the business collapsed in 2002. If Milanes knew then that he was going to close the firm and flee, it seems a bit like bad faith to be offering special investment deals.

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