Complex property theft case results in three arrests

Allegations of property theft on a grand scale surfaced again Thursday with the arrest of two women lawyers and a 50-year-old man.

The three are under investigation as part of the complex case that involves faking the ownership  of two San Carlos companies by forgery of corporate documents. A unique aspect is that after the title to one company passed, the new and presumably fraudulent  owner showed up with gunmen and forced employees off one of the corporate properies which is a cattle ranch.

The lawyers are Viria Picado Rodriguez, 62, and Gabriela Alejandre Saenz, 44. The Colegio de Abogados lists Ms. Picado as a lawyer since 1999 with offices in Santo Domingo de Heredia.

Ms. Alejandre has an office on Avenida 16 in Barrio Lujan in San José, the lawyer professional organization said.

The man is Jaime Jarquín Zarate, 50.

There are actually two cases of fraud with property records involving separate companies with collections of cattle properties.

One ownership transfer took place in February and the other in May, said the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The cases involve the way properties are transferred in Costa Rica. Instead of recording a deed signed by the current owners, those wishing to sell and buy go to a notary, a senior form of lawyer, who takes down the information and then presents their own document chronicling the sale  to the Registro Nacional.

This process leaves open the possibility of notaries forging documents and then presenting them to the Registro as authentic. Judicial investigators allege that this is what happened in these two cases. Although suspicion falls on lawyer-notaries in such cases, they also can be the victim of lies and false documents themselves.

Involved in both cases is a foreigner who is the presumed ringleader. He was not detained Thursday. Agents conducted six different raids in Heredia, Tres Ríos, Barrio Lujan, and San Carlos.

One of the properties involved is in Sabalito de Monterrey, in San Carlos. Police went there May 31 to prevent the removal of cattle after owners disputed the purported sale, Fuerza Pública reported at the time.  The second San Carlos location is in Cutris, and the title involves 16 distinct properties.

The other property, which had been placed in the name of the foreigner, was sold off, according to investigators.  Zarate, who was detained Thursday, is believed to have been one of the purchasers.

The allegations in the case include fraud, forgery, conspiracy and property theft.

The real owners of the properties include Costa Ricans and U.S. investors, investigators have said.

Investigators are believed to be seeking at least one more lawyer as well as the foreigner who was identified as a ringleader.

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