Expat faces defamation charge over YouTube video

Sheldon Hazeltine, the self-described Anglo-American, who is fighting to keep ownership of land in the Central Pacific, has been served with a criminal notice for defamation.

Hazeltine reported this Wednesday, the same day that a separate criminal hearing against him and his lawyer was postponed in Puntarenas court.

Hazeltine is the man who made a 7-minute, 14-second YouTube video describing his 14-year court fight to keep the land he and his partners own. The video is at the heart of the defamation allegation.

The complaint came from Armando González Fonseca of Curridabat, Fuad Farach Abdalah of San Rafael de Escazú, Ricardo Jiménez Montealegre of Sánchez de Curridabat and Otto Giovanni Ceciliano Mora of Santa Lucia de Barva, Heredia.

The case was filed July 24 by Ceciliano Mora, a lawyer. He said that at trial he will show that the video has offended the dignity, decorum, reputation and good name of those bringing the case. The lawyer notes that removing the video from YouTube is unlikely with the order of a judge, suggesting that he may seek this at trial.

The lawyer also entered into evidence a translation of the video by an official translator. The filing also contains statements from those bringing the case that the video has caused damage to family and commercial life.
Defamation in Costa Rica is covered by article 146 of the penal code, which says someone will be penalized with from 20 to 70 days fine for dishonoring another or publishing any sort of material to affect reputation. There also would be the prospect of a civil money award upon conviction.

So far, the YouTube video has had 7,519 views.

However, article 149 provides truth as a defense, particularly if the statements are in the public interest.

The filing by the lawyer makes much of his arrest last year. Hazeltine said in the video that according to local newspapers Ceciliano has three convictions and had been detained in December in a case related to drugs, arms trafficking and money laundering. Ceciliano explains in the filing that he was freed in January by a judge because he was a lawyer and the judge said that he was not part of a criminal ring but just exercising his legal profession as a defensor.

Hazeltine has five days to file an answer to the criminal charge with the court.

Hazeltine said by telephone Wednesday that the Puntarenas criminal case was postponed until October. This is a forgery case brought by González Fonseca challenging Hazeltine’s right to represent the corporation that owns the disputed land in a civil case. Hazeltine and his lawyer, Horacio Mejias Portuguez, have been cleared in two trials. But each time the acquittal was annulled on appeal for technical reasons. Even the local prosecutor has supported the pair and says there was no forgery.

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