Two men held in probe of teak investment project

Two individuals involved in a green business have been detained on suspicion of defrauding foreign investors with a teak scheme. The Poder Judicial said that the arrests Thursday were based on the complaints of two individuals who had invested money. But investigators said that there may be 75 persons whom the agency described as victims who have not yet traveled to Costa Rica to put in complaints.

The arrests came during raids in Ciudad Colón, Rohrmoser, Pavas, as well as a house and office in Heredia, a house in Santa Ana and a property in San Carlos.

Those arrested were identified by the last name of Vranken, believed to be Frank Vranken, a Belgium national, and Sjerps, believed to be Maurice Sjerps, a Dutch citizen.

Some of the locations raided were offices and homes of notaries. The Poder Judicial said that the notaries were not detained but that investigators were seeking evidence in the case, such as contracts.

The Poder Judicial said that the business involved markets teak trees via the Internet. The company involved is Global Green Services S.A., said the Poder Judicial. This company via its Web site offers up to a 25-year lease to investors on land on which trees are planted.

Vranken also is a principal in F E Forestry and Environment Corporation LLC, which offers forestry maintenance. The firm is located in Ciudad Colón, and it is recommended by Global Green Services.

Global Green on its Web site said that it has been in business since 1994. The Web site itself has been active since March 2004. The Poder Judicial said that the activities that generated allegations began in 2009.

Both Vranken and Sjerps also are believed to be involved in forestry operations and carbon storage projects in Panamá.

Global Green lists its office in the Oficentro la Sabana, but the firm does not say where its tree plantations are located except that they are on the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

The prosecutor in charge is Mariela Villalobos in the fraud office.

The two English investors are said to have lost 320,000 British pounds in the teak tree project.

The two men were being questioned formally by prosecutors Thursday afternoon, and a court appearance was expected later.

A.M. Costa Rica has published interviews with experts who said that teak grown here is not of the best quality. Local woodworkers who produce teak furniture usually import the wood. However, the Global Green plan, as outlined on its Web site, also included reforestation.

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