Judicial secrecy can be damaging to those who are not guilty

They say that democracy dies in the dark. But while the Sala IV constitutional court has declared legislative meetings to be open and salary information of government employees to be public, the courts themselves are wrapped in secrecy up until a trial.

Frequently expats who think they are getting a raw legal deal tell reporters to check the court file. But these documents that are open to the public elsewhere are closed here. So are court hearings that lead up to a public trail. Only lawyers and individuals directly involved have access to this information or hearings. One consequence is that the public is not able to follow the cases and weigh the efficiencies of the judicial process.

What happens to someone showed handcuffed and detained on television usually remains a mystery.

Just ask Herman Zango Milgran, an engineer who was swept up in the arrests following the collapse of the high-interest operation called Savings Unlimited in 2002.

Zango said that he was unjustly involved in the case that is better known by the name of the Saving Unlimited operator Luis Milanes. Prosecutors appear to have agreed with Zango, and a judge issued an order clearing the man in May 2011.

“I  got a sobreseimiento definitivo requested by the prosecutor orfiscalia, as they found I had nothing to do and not involved in his activities,” Zango said of Milanes.. “The biggest injustice is that the court in Costa Rica took three years to declare it even when the fiscalia requested the judge to remove me almost immediately when they called  me. They said they always work this way to save process costs to the court and do this only until the audiencia preliminarwhere they clear people and make the accusations together.”

The judicial order also cleared men identified as Edgar Enrique Ramírez Bolaños and Edward Bridges. Those close to the case say that investigators and prosecutors involved in the case threw a wide net and detained a number of individuals who had been connected in some way with Milanes. Prosecutors at the time in 2008 said they thought Zango was handling money for the fugitive Milanes.

Zango said that he was hired by Milanes as a consultant to create a casino at the Radisson Hotel in 1999, and he had no more business dealings after that although he sometimes had been contacted on casino matters.

Milanes, who is suppose to go to trial over the Saving Unlimited collapse, has long been the operator of casinos in San José even when he was a fugitive.

So even though Zango and the other two men were dropped from the case, there was no public announcement to that effect, even though their detentions had been made public. And, because the file continues to be sealed to outside eyes, the fact was not known.

A.M. Costa Rica was able to confirm that Zango had been released from the case because he provided the legal papers. He said that he had suffered damages because his involvement in the case had been reported but not the fact that he had been dropped as a suspect.

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