The judiciary has launched a formal investigation of facts contained in a La Nación news story Thursday that said a prosecutor in charge of the case had Internet contact with fraud suspect Luis Milanes.
In what it said was an urgent communication, the Poder Judicial press department said that the decision to investigate the case came from Zarela Villanueva Monge, president of the Corte Suprema de Justicia July 2. That was a few days after a La Nación reporter interviewed the prosecutor who was involved in the case. He is Alfredo Araya Vega, who now is a judge in the flagrancy court in San José.
The complaint in this case came from the former prosecutor, who alleged identity theft and what he called information sabotage in a formal complaint after the interview. So it appears in addition to investigating the conduct of the former prosecutor and the fraud suspect, the investigators from the Inspección Judicial also will look at the source of the Internet messages and perhaps the way in which La Nación reporter David Delgado acquired them.
The La Nación news stories said that Araya denies having received or sent some of the messages, which are text sent through a chat program. They closely resemble emails. The online exchange would have taken place during a time that Milanes, the former operator of the Savings Unlimited high interest scheme, was seeking to firm up a conciliation agreement with former investors. He was offering to turn over property so that the investors would not continue with a criminal fraud accusation. Such conciliations are not unusual in Costa Rica.
A.M. Costa Rica does not have copies of the Internet messages, although La Nación published some of them.
Contact between prosecutors and judges with some of the estimated 500 investors is not unusual. A.M. Costa Rica has confirmed that some have sent repeated messages to judicial figures in the case. Some also have held face-to-face meetings. But the email messages always have gone to judicial inboxes. The messages to Araya went to a personal gmail account.
The Milanes case has had unusual aspects from the beginning. His Centro Colón office for Savings Unlimited resembled a small bank with a cashier’s window and an elegant etched glass door. The joke was that MIlanes and Luis Enrique Villalbos were involved in market segmentation.
Villaobos, who still is a fugitive, used to give his high interest investors Bibles and became known as a patron of a local church. Milanes, on the other hand, used to suggest that the money from investors would go to develop casinos or a firm that manufactured gambling devices. The office was staffed with beautiful foreign women.
Many expats had money with both operations, and they lost it all when they both collapsed in late 2002 and Milanes and Villalobos fled.
Milanes surfaced at an airport in 2008 in El Salvador. Officials there said he presented a false passport. Instead of arresting him for that crime, he was allowed to fly off to San José where he was met with investigators and prosecutors. Expats concluded that he had made a deal with Franciso Dall’Anesse, who then was the fiscal general or chief prosecutor.
Dall’Anese has been in Guatemala for three years where he served as head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which was set up by the United Nations to fight organized crime there. He is expected to return to Costa Rica because he just left that position.
Milanes spent just a night in jail before he was released in exchange for posting properties as security. Some of his associates had spent time in prison for pre-trial detention. They have since settled with the investors for a small amount of money and accepted conditional release. One close associate died. Another is in Europe. Since 2008 Milanes has been living well at the Hotel Europa downtown. He is escorted by bodyguards when he goes out in public.
Some of the expats said they doubt that they will release more than a small percent of the money they invested, but they would like a high judicial official to take a long and detailed look at the case.