The Sala IV has ducked the chance to resolve a key issue in property theft. The Sala IV, the constitutional court, rejected an appeal because it said the case still was open.
The issue centered on the traditional tendency of the Sala Tercera, the criminal branch of the Corte Surpema de Justicia, to protect the original victims in property fraud cases.
The Sala Primera, the civil appeals court, generally protects what are known as innocent third parties, that is those who purchase property from someone who is not really the owner.
The decision by the constitutional court case came as a brief memo from the Poder Judicial. The memo said that the court left open the possibility of continuing to study this legal question.
The question is important because many property thieves use fake documents to transfer real estate into their name or the name of a trusted accomplice. From there, the real estate is transferred to a third party who may not be so innocent.
In the civil court, the final recipient of the real estate would be protected, and the real owner who lost the property would only have the option of seeking redress from the persons who did the forgery. At the criminal court, the magistrates would return the property to the person who originally owned it.
One expat had to fight and eventually win a case when politically connected women said they purchased a million dollar property from a snow cone vendor on the Quepos beach. They were trying to characterize themselves as innocent third parties, but the story was so fantastic that even judges did not buy it. In most cases, the reverse is what happens.
Property theft is a continuing problem and a barrier to investment in Costa Rica. The property transfer system does not depend on the signature of an owner on a deed. What counts is a written statement from a notary that the property has changed hands. That tradition stems from a time when many citizens could not read or write.
So a motivated notary can simply transfer any piece of property in the country into the hands of fellow crooks. All it takes is one bad apple with a tendency for cocaine to totally muddle the property records.
Every few months judicial agents detain notaries and others as property thieves. Most of the cases end up in limbo in the judicial system, and frequently the case dies because the time to prosecute the case has expired. A bad situation is when a crook shows up with ownership documents from the Registro Nacional shortly after a property owner has died. Heirs are hard-pressed to dispute the claim.
An earlier article on this problem is HERE!