Expat wins small victory in prolonged property case

A.M. Costa Rica photo Armado González Fonseca enters the court building.

An expat and his Costa Rican lawyer prevailed this week in a criminal case that was the latest development in a long-running saga over disputed properties on the Central Pacific coast.

The expat, Sheldon Haseltine, has been struggling to hang on to the five tracts near the Los Sueños development for the past 16 years. He and his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez, were accused of forgery involving documents submitted in another case.

The allegation was leveled by Armando Gonzalez Fonseca, a Costa Rican business tycoon, and Martha Sandoval, who lives on one of Haseltine’s properties. The prosecutor sided with Haseltine and his lawyer, and a judge earlier had prohibited a lawyer for González from carrying the case forward as a private criminal action.

Dixiela Madrigal Mora, the prosecutor in Puntarenas, said she concluded that there was no crime. She spoke in favor of both Mejias and Haseltine during a judicial session Tuesday. A judge then ruled in favor of both men and said there was no proof of the document’s falsity and that there was no crime. But the lawyer for González was to appeal this verdict.

Representing González and Sandoval at the judicial hearing was Christian Ceciliano Mora. He just took over the case from the original lawyer, his brother, Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora, the former Barva mayoral candidate, who has been jailed for preventative detention. Otto Ceciliano was detained by the Judicial Investigating Organization Dec. 20 in a wave of arrests relating to marijuana smuggling and money laundering.

Haseltine, a British national, acquired five properties in Herradura, Puntarenas, near what is now Los Sueños in 1977. Since then, four out of the five properties have kept Haseltine in prolonged litigations, he said.

Because of his disputed land ownership within those years he has been involved in two criminal trials, one constitutional court Sala IV case, two agrarian trials and one civil suit. In another case, Haseltine was convicted of armed aggression, an allegation leveled by a relative of Ms. Sandoval. That conviction is being appealed.

Haseltine maintains he is innocent on the weapon charge. He said he believes a strategy exists to relieve him from the land. Haseltine noted that even though he has all the legal paperwork to show ownership, squatters are living on his properties.

Ms. Sandoval lives on the land. She has since transferred any ownership interest she may have to her daughter. Gonzalez Fonseca said he purchased the property from another man who was not involved in the case last week.

The specific allegation in the case this week was that a document that simplified the management of Haseltine’s corporation, Ivanhoe Investment S.A., was fake. The corporation is registered in Panamá, but administered in The Bahamas. The document required and got the seal of the Costa Rican consulate in The Bahamas.

The lawyers for González and Ms. Sandoval
claimed the document was fake because the immigration data base showed that Mejias, Haseltine’s lawyer who signed the document, never left the country. Mejias said he used a courier service to deliver the document overseas. Proving this required two years of legal fighting. The disputed document has been presented in a another civil case in which Haseltine was trying to reaffirm his corporation’s property ownership.

The judicial hearing before Yorleni Campos Campos, the judge, was private in the Puntarenas judicial building. However, a reporter was allowed to attend to provide translating help to Haseltine. The judge characterized the case as stemming from a misunderstanding. The prosecutor, Ms. Madrigal, reported that she personally investigated the allegation of fraud to reach her conclusion that the two men were not guilty.

Two persons in support of González had to wait in the corridor. They were international commercial developer Fuad Farach Abdalah and Ricardo Jiménez Montealegre, a well-known contractor, They appeared to be upset when a television reporter and cameraman began asking them questions. Christian Ceciliano, the lawyer for González, initiated a heated exchange with the television reporter and then called a courthouse security agent who asked the television pair to stop recording. Ceciliano said the pair were intruding on a private meeting he was having with his client.

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